Test banks’ pose ethical dilemma for some NU students

Ali Elkin

For most Northwestern students, midterms mean logging countless hours at the library and spending a small fortune at Starbucks.

Others have an easier way: Sifting through archived exams kept in “test banks” by fraternities and sororities, residential colleges or other organizations.

“There are people who are going to use test banks,” said Greg McKenna, a Communication junior. “I’d prefer to get a B minus and not use the test bank.”

McKenna, who transferred from George Washington University, said test files were much more common at his former school than NU.

“At Northwestern, I feel like there is a little more pride,” he said. “But you can be in a class of 200 and only 75 people show up to class and then they all ace it.”

Many NU students said test files are most often used in Greek houses and residential colleges.

For some faculty members, it is unclear whether using the files as an academic resource is ethical.

“It’s unfortunate if some students have study guides that others don’t,” Provost Daniel Linzer said. “If I had to put a positive spin on it, it would be the students inducing the faculty to create new exams.”

For Linzer, the answer to the problem lies in changing the behavior of professors, not students.

“What you hope is that the faculty continue to update their courses every year,” he said.

Economics Prof. Mark Witte, who sees tests as “a motivating device but antithetical to learning,” said the prevalence of test files boils down to economics.

“We do what is privately optimal, but not socially optimal,” Witte said.

He said that for him, creating and administering new tests is often a waste of time. It could even be a hindrance to professors who want to compare classes from different years, he said.

Fraternities are not the only organizations that assemble test files. Many sororities and residential colleges also have archives of old tests.

“We do have a test file,” said Andrea Fraga, academics chair for Kappa Delta. “To be honest, I don’t think anyone uses it because it’s a mess.”

The McCormick sophomore said sisters can get “points toward the house” for donating their old tests. At the end of the year, the sorority members with the most points get first pick of rooms.

In other sororities, however, test files are used to give the house itself a competitive edge.

“If you look at sororities’ GPAs, I would say the ones with the highest ones get the most use out of test files,” said a Weinberg senior, who asked to remain anonymous due to rules from her sorority’s national headquarters.

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