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Alba Iulia
Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Why some students fail examinations lamentably

General News Why some students fail examinations lamentably

File:Copperbelt Permanent Secretary Villie Lombanya with KCM and Government Officials and the students who received the KCM scholarships
File:Copperbelt Permanent Secretary Villie Lombanya with KCM and Government Officials and the students who received the KCM scholarships

In January this year, Zambia Institute of Advanced Legal Education (ZIALE) results were released. Out of over 250 candidates only 6 managed to pass the legal practice exams, translating to 3% pass rate. MMD member of parliament Michael Kaingu said that the behaviour of ZIALE was unscrupulous (Post newspaper dated 23rd January, 2014), while another blogger called the results pathetic. The situation in Liberia in West Africa was even frightening. All the students that wrote University entry qualifications failed, representing 0% failure rate.

I have been reflecting deeply on this state of affairs at ZIALE and many other tertiary institutions in Zambia. In this exposition, I will endeavour to highlight some of the obvious and some not so obvious reasons while students perform pathetically despite purportedly having spent sleepless nights “jobbing”.

While a student might be reading lecture notes and trying to assimilate what they are reading, there are few things that they ignore for that study material to make meaning and be reproduced during examinations. One possible explanation why learners encounter retrieval failure is decay theory. According to this theory, a memory trace is created every time a new theory is formed. Decay theory suggests that over time, these memory traces begin to fade and disappear. If information is not retrieved and rehearsed, it will eventually be lost. The implication here is that a leaner needs to be fully occupied with studying through out as this will enhance rehearsal. Have you ever wondered why you have photographic memory of some events in your life that are impactful? It is because you think about them so often and hence rehearsal in enhanced and as such they appear fresh all the time.

Another reason is interference. Interference theory suggests that some memories compete and interfere with other memories. When information is very similar to other information that was previously stored in memory, interference is more likely to occur.

There are two basic types of interference:

  1. Proactive interference is when an old memory makes it more difficult or impossible to remember a new memory.
  2. Retroactive interference occurs when new information interferes with your ability to remember previously learned information.

Sometimes, losing information has less to do with forgetting and more to do with the fact that it never made it into long-term memory in the first place. Encoding failures sometimes prevent information from entering long-term memory. The implication here is that a student needs to concentrate when studying so that what ever is being assimilated moves from short term memory to long term memory. I shudder when I see a student studying with headphones dangling her/his cheeks.
As part to study, try to figure out features on a K10 note in its absence and then compare the result with the physical K10 note. How well did you do? Chances are that you were able to remember the shape and color, but you probably forgot other minor details. The reason for this is that only details necessary for distinguishing one note from the others is encoded into your long-term memory.
In summing up, the life of a learner should be focused, with less partying to promote rehearsal and make examinations passable. Remember, education is the best equaliser of life chances.

By Sydney Kawimbe


  1. Sydney, how can 0% failure rate represent everybody that failed? Could you proofread your articles next time before you give them to LT? Their articles are already dodgy enough so you will not get much help from their editorial skills set… That said, there are interesting points of debate on why students fail, some as remote as what they inherited from their environments and who shaped them.

    • While, the above theories may be true but only to some extent especially about ZIALE. The failure rates at ZIALE are just created to maintain a small number of Lawyers. If a research is done to see whether or not the 6 who passed for example at ZIALE were the best students at the institutions they came from. Which the results, many questions would be begging for answers:
      1. How did such students pass from the institutions they were before going to ZIALE.
      2. What kind of teaching materials were they given from first to ZIALE.
      3. What about the caliber of lecturers/teachers at ZIALE i.e. to have scored highly during one’s training does make one a good lecturer/teacher.
      4. Should question the exams at ZIALE?
      5. How did some dull lawyers pass during their time? And many more…..

  2. Failure rate at ZIALE and indeed most other Zambian institutions of learning like UNZA is not because students can not remember what they study. It is because the examiners want it to so. In Zambia we think maintaining standards is by having a high failure rate. Even students respect lecturers who produce a lot of fails.

  3. Food for thoughts Sydney, however one observation is true. Today’s learners have a lot of things to interfere with their studies. Phone with internet, BBM, Watsup, cable television, parties, cars and the list is endless. In the years gone by, we had almost nothing in the university rooms other than a chair, table, books and a radio if the economy is above the majority. Really times have changed and so is the pass rate it has change. Also the easy of getting information, with Google around, does reduce chances of developing intensive reading culture.

    • But internet has made research even easier so we expect more students in higher learning institutions to be even better?

  4. If students are failing that much theses institutions need to address the issue. Is it their policy to have a high failure rate? This blame should also rest on the institutions not just the students.

  5. [email protected], You have a very valid point. One time I passed through UNZA, you can’t find parking at the Monk square anymore. Previously even the car park for lectureres in front of the school of education never used to get filled with vehicles.

  6. LOL! “All the students that wrote University entry qualifications failed, representing 0% failure rate.”

    What about “careless theory,” Sydney? Did you think about that?

  7. Thats why you also failed your examinations! How can failure by all students represent a 0% failure rate?

  8. The culture of violence that the PF and its bandits have introduced in this country is a very sad development. Elizabeth Chitika said Chiluba said it in 2001 that i cant give the Presidency to Sata; “teti asunge abantu, kuntu abapatanya” and here we are. I am very upset that innocent citizens are being harrased just for belonging to a different party. Chili ndwii mu state house and very primitive as usual. wake up and start leading, iwe chi Sata. Say something about the violence. Also there is a provision for resigning in your contract in case you are not aware.

  9. Jelita why have you just gone in a different direction.Does it pay to insult your head of state. You should be ashamed of your self.

Comments are closed.

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