The Ethics of Blanking as a Strategy

December 11, 2012  //  By:   //  DISCUSS, ON CAMPUS  //  9 Comments

The first time I heard about blanking was after my first semester’s final exams way back in 2010. According to some of my classmates, there were a handful of people who blanked all of their exams to sit the retake a few weeks later. I was shocked. I had never even heard of this, let alone contemplated this as an option. But they weren’t as shocked as I was because some of these people had been doing this throughout the semester with smaller assignments. These people also happened to be the ones who didn’t show up for classes. At first, I thought maybe they just weren’t ready for university and had freaked out a little bit, but when this became the way people treated every exam it stopped being funny.

We are in university where we are developing some skills beyond accumulating knowledge. We are learning time management, organization, and responsibility. No longer can we blame the teachers or anyone else for our misfortunes. No matter how terrible we think any class is, we are ultimately responsible for our own education, which includes studying for exams and that shouldn’t be too complicated. In the beginning of every semester, we get plans for our courses, an overview of the reading material, and objectives for the course. In the beginning of every fall semester, we get a timetable so the date of the exam should not be a surprising.

Throughout the semester we have access to the reading material, the lectures, and the teacher. If we feel we can’t understand the subject well enough, we have time to reach out to anyone outside of our class who we know can help us. No one is saying you can’t use any resources you can think of to learn the material. There are lots of blogs, videos, and material available online that is in no way restricted and no one is looking over your shoulder and calling you a cheater when you seek explanations outside of your course. The point is that by the time the exam rolls around you are to demonstrate what you have learned during the semester.

Of course there are situations where I can sympathize with blanking. For example, when people are sick or something unexpected comes up. This is what blanking is for. But blanking as a strategy, that is blanking every exam just to buy time, is a loser strategy. It is also unfair to the rest of your class who might also do better with a month more to study, but are taking responsibility for their work throughout the semester and meeting the deadline. Blanking as a strategy is also one of those things that devalues your education. You’re not learning the lessons and developing the skills as you are supposed to be doing, you are learning how to navigate the system and exploit the loopholes for your personal gain. This is the source of many problems for people in organizations and firms. This is the behaviour that sends people to jail. And besides, what employer wants employees who can’t meet deadlines and can’t work under pressure?

But this is a problem that the system has created. It enables and encourages blanking as a strategy. So, in order to stop this behaviour, we must first change the system.

First of all, the re-examinations are too conveniently placed right after the other exams. Changing it so that all of the retakes take place perhaps only once a year, maybe in the summer, could prove helpful. Charging a small fee for each retake might also have some effect and as would putting a limit on the number of blanks a student may do in a semester, a year, or even in the duration of the entire program. As it has no repercussions, some kind of punishment for going over the limit might scare people off, such as going over the limit once would result in not being able to get a grade higher than a 10, the next time no higher than a 7 and so on. So, if there was a limit of 1 per semester the second exam a student would blank that semester would not allow them a higher grade than a 10, the third a 7.

It is my personal opinion that blanking as a strategy is a loser move, a cop out, and should be restricted by the study boards. While educating the future business people, CBS also puts an emphasis on CSR and other “good behaviour”. So why does it not hold its own students to the standards we want to hold our future employers? Why don’t we hold ourselves and our fellow students to a higher standard?

This is a discussion we need to have, for as long as it is accepted or ignored, the longer our students will continue to actively refuse to learn the lessons they need to succeed.


About the Author :

Pollý Hilmarsdóttir has just graduated from BSc BLC program this summer. She is a news junky and watches way too much TV. But she doesn‘t know anything about Denmark, so don‘t ask. Contrary to popular belief she does understand and speak Danish, and tries very hard not to be the first Icelandic person people meet. And just to cover the FAQ: No, she doesn‘t know Björk personally. Yes, the volcanos and earthquakes make life interesting, and no, a seal is not a polar bear. And just to be different she does not want to become a business person to make piles of money.

9 Comments to “The Ethics of Blanking as a Strategy”
  • Oakley Solbriller
    October 14, 2014 - Reply

    So that you can showcase sleep, keep your room is utterly comfortable. Noises and light-weight stages need to be fine-tuned accurately in order that the human body is going to relax and sleep by natural means. If you can’t find an alarm clock that has a dim display, don’t have one at all. Also, a very good bed mattress can assist you sleeping a lot more soundly.

  • Kristian Clausen
    April 19, 2013 - Reply

    Ill try not to attack your article, but I will disagree with it. First things first, blanking is available to everyone, and to say that the school system as it is is best suited for everyone is in my opinion very false. The school system has been this way since the industrial revolution with tests and exams. You read, you get taught, you get tested and you become a product of an assembly line. Im saying thats all fine for some, and might even work for most.

    But lets not jump the gun here, I don’t believe theres a large amount of students “blanking” and certainly not the majority. But its a strategy that is available to everyone, which by definition makes it fair also to those taking the original exam, considering they have the same possibilities. Blanking leaves the opportunity to really have university as a “self” study and to plan and work full time while finishing a bachelor or masters degree. It leaves the student with the opportunity to learn in the best way possible for that particular student. If thats reading to himself, watching videos or discussing subjects on forums thats his/her choice.

    What your talking about is forcing a box over everyones learning possibilities, because you feel the schools system as it is, is the best way to learn. I doubt everyone will agree with this. I am on my masters now, and I know that i disagree with some teachers opinions on learning matters, and that a teachers opinion has the same value as mine, and that I should not blindly trust everything im told in the classroom. Im sure you agree with this. But when we have four subjects of 1000-1500 pages of reading material, and four exams in four weeks, I think its a good decision to blank the two in the middle, leaving you with the best possible to ace all four exams. And whether or not you like it, workplaces only look at grades to begin with when looking at applications. So I dont think it is for us to judge what strategy each student may use to maximise his potential for good grades, and in the end getting the job he / she wants for the rest of their life.

  • Martin Henriksen
    February 15, 2013 - Reply

    You can certainly argue whether having the option of blanking is optimal for an education like this, but surely it has nothing do to with ethics. Everyone has the same options of blanking or postponing exams, so you completely misunderstood the concept.

  • Peter Maag
    December 11, 2012 - Reply

    Dear Pollý,
    Your whole approach to this “ethical problem” seems more founded in some sort of ‘jante-lov’ mentality than in fairness for all students. I see the possibility to structure your exams and life according to your own agenda to maximise both your learning and your value as the best possible outcome for both the individual student and somewhat for the school.

    With regards to the individual gaining value, it can be through a better grade (which might serve them well in the future), or for example more knowledge learned from more study time at the persons own pace. although I am sure there are more reasons than this for doing it I will keep to these as the two most generally predominant.

    The school can of course both benefit and loose from this strategy of letting students blank. A benefit is that there is a higher value in (for companies) a student who has more knowledge (than if the student had not studied extra for the blank) and by extending this argument CBS also has more value in a student who is more attractive as it creative positive spin for CBS. a counter argument might be that CBS has extra expenditures for blank exams. but when looking at this the argument of student value for CBS rises once again as it is more valuable for CBS to produce the most knowledgeable students as this reflects positively on them from a recruitment perspective.
    this can of course be argued back and forth in extensive papers, but I shall therefore leave it here as I have no further intention of doing such a paper.

    I see the strategy of blanking very congruent with some aspects of CBS, most obviously in all the courses called anything with ‘strategy’ or ‘management’ as this method of blanking is a clear sign that students are applying their knowledge to gain the most out of it. I agree with Sine with her regards on bureaucracy as the exams are not necessarily placed at the best possible times for students.

    I agree with Erik in that it is of course fair, as all students have the opportunity but choose not to do this.

    with regards to your suggestions I see them as completely unfair as they will not only hit the persons you hate but also everyone else who might need to blank due to unforeseen circumstances.
    furthermore your charge on re-exams would hit all students, you might say that to differentiate you could demand a doctors declaration, but these vary in price from a couple of hundred to almost a thousand kroner and would cause great harm for students and pressure them into taking an exam while sick and unable.

    I have had teachers that were not good at educating and I have banked their exams and retaken the courses with other teachers. should that be punished?

    I have blanked several times on purpose in my bachelor and I will probably blank on some exams in my masters. I attended most classes all of the time and I am not a bad student.

    I have vastly improved my knowledge by doing this and I do not regret it.

    I do realise that all my arguments are not clearly enough explained but I shall conclude now as I am blanking an exam at the moment and have other more pressing matters to attend to

    Merry Christmas, happy new years, and lighten up Pollý

    Peter Maag

    • Pollý Hilmarsdóttir
      December 11, 2012 - Reply

       Just to be clear, I don’t hate anyone :)

      The whatever-it-doesn’t-matter attitude is precisely why I chose to come off strong in this post, because this is the first place I have encountered this practice and the indifference to it. It’s difficult that it is seen as fine and no one seems to be able to take a step back and think critically about it.

      I get that people are relaxed about it and think it helps them get better grades and whatnot, but my main goal here was to get people to talk about it, and so far no one has been able to step out of their boxes and tried to see this side of the issue. Everyone is so upset and busy “defending” their view that this isn’t being discussed as much as attacked.

      Of course some of my proposed solutions have downsides, I know of a university where the retakes are only once a year and sometimes students are charged a small fee (we’re talking 50 kronas maybe) for it. But we could argue it should be inconvenient to take the retake; hence do the real test well.(This would of course affect people who failed or were absent as well) And those are proposed solutions, something that would be discussed by the appropriate authorities were they to be considered, as I do not have the authority to implement them. (And a doctor’s note is already required when you call in sick at an exam, but I haven’t said anything about that)

      I’m not ready to take the arguments “the teacher is bad” or “I had to work to make my CV look good” valid, but that’s just me. And of course sometimes people need to blank the exam. As I said, it’s there for a reason, but I just feel people are manipulating this option.

      What I’m trying to get to is this: If we could just get over the “I did it and it worked and therefore it’s great and good and you’re trying to sabotage us” and look at it like any other case we have in our classes, we might get to a discussion about both sides of the matter. Of course it would be great if we could pick the exam dates ourselves, but that’s not going to happen.

      At some point it would be nice to hear the teachers’ perspective on this, or admin/study board’s.

  • Erik Thompson
    December 11, 2012 - Reply

     Is it really unfair if everyone has an equal chance to do it? I mean, you can’t really complain that someone else blanked and you didn’t, because you had the same opportunity to blank as they did. While I do agree that the possible environment that blanking creates isn’t altogether a great one, I don’t see anything “unethical” about blanking. It’s just admitting to yourself you aren’t ready for the exam; or it’s admitting to yourself that the extra five weeks and your bet on the re-take will be easier will get you a higher grade.

    • Pollý Hilmarsdóttir
      December 11, 2012 - Reply

      This is another problem we have in the world of “university education for all”. We focus too much on our grades instead of the knowledge and skills learned and developed throughout our time in university. And when all that matters to you is getting 12 on everything you miss learning responsibility, meeting a deadline, and organizing. Sure, we can all just postpone our exams until next semester. No problem. But why do we then have exams now in the first place? I’m sure the teachers aren’t just doing it to bother us, there probably is a very good reason for them to have us sit them now.

      And do you really think that postponing delivering on a deadline will always be available in the workplace? Focusing on nothing but our grades will make us miss half of what we’re supposed to learn during this time.

      It’s not as unethical or unfair as it is cheating yourself out of your *real* education.
      ~Polly

      • Sine Astrid Morris
        December 11, 2012 - Reply

        I agree that there are a lot of reasons why a university education does not exactly teach you all the valuable skills you need to be a good employee. Exams are a limited way to understand a person and their skills. There is too big of a focus on grades and not enough on extra-curricular activities, but I would say that – I spend a lot of time on extra-curricular activities :)
        There are no good reasons why we have exams in that way or at that time, its all just random bureaucracy and if they can manage that a small percentage hands their assignment in at a later time, then that’s great for all.
        It has no impact on your real education whether you hand in a month early or a month late. This is university, where adults are allowed to manage their own time as they see fit.

        I think you will be surprised how things are in the workplace. If you ask your boss to give you another month to do some assignments and it has no impact on others or any impact in any way whatsoever, I think your boss is very likely to give you that time.

        Polly, some people structure their way differently than you do and you can choose whether you want to work with them or hire them or not, but there is no reason to campaign for them to have their options limited when it has no impact on your life whatsoever.

        But that’s just me :)

        • Pollý Hilmarsdóttir
          December 11, 2012 - Reply

           I would love to work where you work, if  what you do doesn’t impact or affect anyone in your workplace. But so far, none of my jobs have been in a complete void. But I wonder, what’s the point of a job if it has no impact in any way whatsoever to just delay getting it done?

          And of course exams aren’t the best way to understand people. But they are what the university has at this point to see if we learned anything. And to accommodate people with different needs we have written, computer-written, oral, and home assignments. It’s not like I’m asking you to do something impossible, because people do this every day all over the world and have for decades. If you don’t like the system, or it doesn’t fit your lifestyle, then get the system to change.

          But I disagree that the timing of exams is pointless. Is it because it’s Christmas? Or because there isn’t enough space between exams to do the studying you were supposed to be doing throughout the semester?

          Sure, school systems tend to be very rigid and set in their ways, but because people structure their lives differently doesn’t give them permission to just not do what is asked of them. And it does impact me when people come into the exam, see it and take it home and have a leg up on studying for the retake. If they get the same or higher grade than I got it takes away from mine (since we care so much about our grades). Why not try to pass the first time? At least if you fail you’ll do the retake anyway! If not, well… you can have a happy, study-free, holiday!

Leave a reply