A Finals Examination
Published: Thursday, November 21, 2013
Updated: Thursday, December 5, 2013 10:12
Finals are creeping up faster than most of us would like to admit. While cumulative examinations have value in the sense that they hold students accountable for the semester, there is ample room for improvement in exam execution. We offer these 10 suggestions as a way to test the Georgetown norm of testing protocol.
Course evaluations give students a voice in keeping professors accountable. Completing evaluations before final examinations eliminates the chance to comment on how well professors have prepared their classes for the final assessment — a major factor in teaching effectiveness. We propose a system in which students are required to fill out the course evaluation in order to access their final grades online. This simple switch would allow for more comprehensive reviews of a course while also creating an incentive for students to complete their evaluations. After all, if a final exam accounts for a significant chunk of students’ grades, it ought to also be weighed in the assessment of their instructor.
REVIEWING STUDY SESSIONS
Although not mandatory, finals review sessions run by teaching assistants are commonplace during Georgetown finals season. But these sessions are hardly standardized, even within the same class. In classes with multiple teaching assistants, certain sections can receive more helpful or more frequent sessions than peers with less dedicated TAs. If the professor prescribed protocol for TAs to follow in review sessions, it would help level the testing playing field. Enforcement could be challenging, but we have faith in the responsibility of TAs when given better guidance.
GRAB ‘N’ KEEP GOING
Grab ‘n’ Go is intended to allow students to grab meals on the run in between classes, but closing the service during finals simply because courses are not in session is unreasonable. The flexibility of location that Grab ‘n’ Go provides is a boon to stressed students looking to cram in a meal while cramming for a test. Quick food is especially appreciated by those unfortunate students with multiple finals on the same day. Flexible meal options aid students who are trying to plan their study days and utilize their meal plans — goals that the university should facilitate, not inhibit.
OFFICE HOURS OFFERINGS
During the course of a semester, office hours are typically underused from day to day and overused around exams. An easy fix to this problem would be to further extend office hours held in the weeks before and during finals. Even a brief, 10-minute meeting with a professor before the final can yield high returns in test performance. Mandating extended office hours during the finals period, perhaps even up to the day before the test, is a simple way to help students with little added burden on the professor.
ASSESSMENT BUFFER ZONE
A 16-week Georgetown semester can simultaneously feel like a marathon and a sprint. Problem sets, midterms and papers are assigned so frequently that there is no clear sense of when midterms are over — and some midterms are even scheduled for the last day of courses. Given the test fatigue that sets in during late April and November, at least one assessment-free week — and ideally several — before finals is in order. Avoiding major tests in the week or two before finals would alleviate some of Georgetown’s notoriously frantic finals stress and allow students the time to meticulously prepare rather than cram.
MAKEUP THE RESCHEDULING POLICY
While no final exam experience could be considered pleasant, there are clearly better and worse schedules. As the policy stands, a student may reschedule an exam only if it conflicts directly with another or if he or she has three exams in one day. And yet it seems unfair to exclude those that do not fit that exact criteria but have equally onerous schedules. Surely three exams over 24 hours, for instance, is not so much more overwhelming than four over 48. Given the frequency of such scenarios, the university should move to make policies on exam rescheduling less rigid. Allowing room for adjustment on a case-by-case basis could help save students from an unduly unpleasant December.
A MENTAL FITNESS TEST
Pulling all-nighters, eating irregularly, binging on caffeine and abusing certain study enhancers such as Adderall are all too common features of finals. Though indulging in such behavior for only several weeks might not seem harmful, the health risks involved are, in fact, substantial. Student Health Services should work in conjunction with the Hoya Health Hut to make a greater and more visible effort in informing students about the resources available. When so many of us are so prone to suspend healthy habits during exams, such reminders can have high impact.
Georgetown’s reading period is among the shortest of competitive universities in the United States. Inadequate time reserved exclusively for review puts students at a disadvantage — especially those with frontloaded exam schedules. With such a long period of testing, it would be more logical to shorten the exam period and add to reading days. As it stands, it’s possible to have either an excess of a week between exams or to have five exams in a three-day sprint. Such a shift would ameliorate unfair student scheduling discrepancies.
CONTENT OVER CONCISION
With long papers, our academic culture places undue emphasis on heeding precise page length, word count or number of sources. Splitting hairs over word count is a contrived value in academics. Guidelines should be restricted to a rough estimate of length, rather than a hard and fast number. Depth and concision are both important, but when we dwell on parameters — spending time playing with margins and spacing — rather than content, a word limit becomes counterproductive. Professors should set a range rather than a rigid count and then trust students to know and heed their own writing style.