Almost every student, no matter what degree they are doing, will have to go through both coursework and exams. So which is the better measure of our knowledge and intelligence? I personally think that coursework is a much more thorough indicator of knowledge and skill.
In coursework, you have to think about argument and structure, carefully planning your work and ensuring that you give a balanced view. You also have to back up your ideas with solid evidence. Because of this, it is often necessary to do additional research, which not only shows you have read further into the subject, but also allows you to compliment your argument with the views of professionals. Some argue that this leads to the possibility of plagiarism, which is undoubtedly a concern. However, there ways of detecting plagiarism, along with very strict rules and penalties for such, in order to deter people from idea-theft. Aside from that I see the opportunity coursework gives for secondary research as a good one, as it gives you a greater comprehension of the subject. Quotes and examples from others are used more to enhance your own ideas, rather than to put the ideas in your head.
Another argument against coursework is the amount of time you have to re-draft and perfect your work. Some would say, with such a chance for correction it hardly seems a measure of intelligence – you are able to double check your arguments and to add in any new information you find out. Again, I disagree that this aspect of coursework is a negative thing. All it really gives you is the chance to make sure you get all your ideas across in a coherent manner, giving you time to ensure your argument has been delivered to the best of your ability. In short, the time aspect of coursework is precisely why it is the better measure of knowledge, as it allows you to articulate all your thoughts on the subject.
Exams have an entirely different focus to coursework, which is why people tend to prefer one over the other. In my opinion, it seems that exams focus more on memory than intelligence, and while this is an important skill to have it is different from knowledge – you either have good memory or you don’t. Some people also struggle under exam conditions, meaning they can forget what they know. As well as this, sometimes you can do as much revision and research as you like, but often it is a matter of luck when it comes to the questions. You can’t be expected to revise literally everything on the course, and there might not be a question on some subjects you chose to focus on. As well as this, the particular questions on what you did revise might be asked awkwardly, or with a different slant to what you expected, so even if you know the subject back to front you can do badly. This can especially be a problem if you panic or run out of time, and you are unable to get across all the points you wanted to make. In a way this is a good thing, as it teaches you self-control and pacing. But while these are again important skills, they don’t fully reflect your ability and knowledge.
In my ideal world, the entirety of the degree would be based on coursework. However, with issues of plagiarism and cheating, it is unlikely that this will ever happen. For now, at least, it seems that exams are a necessary evil, and we can only be grateful that they are not worth 100% of our mark.