November 30, 2010

Final resort

Offering alternate exam dates would level the playing field and avoid overburdening students

It’s 10th week, and that means the Reg will experience a surge of sleepless residents, the skies will darken to an ominous black, and campus will fall silent except for the beckoning whisper of winter break. In these last two weeks, studying for finals becomes the top priority for students, with reading period offering the only respite between classes and exams.

Even in all this doom and gloom, a particularly dark possibility stands out: taking two or more exams on the same day. Since this situation puts students at such a clear disadvantage, it’s unclear why they are rarely allowed to reschedule.

In a five-day exam week, with an average load of four classes, it’s normal for two or more finals to fall on the same, dreadful day. Such a dilemma currently has no viable solution: Professors almost never allow postponement of an exam or paper, so the student is forced to accept that, in all likelihood, their efforts on one of the two will be compromised.

All teachers should allow for an alternative exam date sometime during finals week. Professors and the administration should support any and all fair methods by which students can alleviate the stress of exams. If a student will do better on an exam by not taking it on the same day his 10-page paper is due, then he should be offered the option to take it at a later date. If a student is overly burdened on one day of exam week, it makes sense to request the postponement of one of the finals.

There is no detriment to such a policy: In fact, requiring alternate exam dates might even create a fairer system, since those students that don’t have same-day exams enjoy an unfair advantage. An administrative mandate forcing professors to offer “late” exam days would level the playing field and create more balanced finals schedules for the student body.

Some might worry that such an initiative would both inconvenience professors and facilitate widespread cheating. But the University already requires that professors offer early exams for graduating fourth-years; the reason for opposing exam rescheduling therefore cannot be rooted in the inconvenience imposed on teachers. Cheating, the other possible problem, is also a non-issue: It has not prevented the College from offering early exams to fourth-years, so why should we expect that cheating would suddenly run rampant if similar accomodations were offered to younger students?

Difficult workloads are part of the package when attending a top-tier university, and finals are always a trying time. But if there is a sensible way for students to maximize their performance on exams, then there is no reason why it shouldn’t be allowed. Offering a second exam date during finals week would not resolve every possible conflict, but it would eliminate the vast majority of them. So the next time a student asks for an alternative time to take a final, cut her some slack. Rescheduling a final is better than failing one.