The Pros and Cons of This Year’s Exam and Exam Schedule

Exams have come and gone once again. And, as always during exam season, people are criticizing our current exam system more. Right now we’ve got a rather convoluted system, with half-day term exams and full-day semester exams. Some classes have traditional exams, and some have projects. There are a few classes that may not have an exam at all. And of course, we can’t forget that some exams took place just one day after we returned from spring break. In the midst of all of the confusion the current system, you might be wondering, can this be managed better? Should we strive for consistency with our alternating half-day/full day schedule and standardize exam options more?

For most classes, exams seem like a necessary evil. Your teachers want to see how much you’ve retained, since the class will only be useful if you can remember what you learned and then apply it. For AP classes, exams tend to be even more stressful, but they can only be helpful as we approach AP exams since they’ll force you to study. Even in classes on music and art, a final allows you to show what you’ve learned or how you’ve improved. They are also a last chance for students to bring their grades up before the term ends. Mia Manney (‘17) suggests that, while she hates exam season, an optional exam should be offered in classes without a mandatory one. She explains that for students who are extremely close to the letter grade that they want, an optional final project or exam could give their grade that extra boost. Otherwise, students won’t have a chance to alter their grade, sometimes ending the class just a few tenths of a point away from that coveted A.

Nevertheless, exams are extremely stressful for most students, especially when they are struggling in a particular class. Exam season can mean cramming, study sessions, panic, etc. Some students develop unhealthy coping habits like going without very much sleep, overusing energy drinks, and eating much more or much less than normal. Some may even abuse potentially dangerous “study drugs,” like Ritalin or Adderall, to stay awake and improve concentration. Projects may be a good alternative, as they tend to be less stressful than traditional exams.

Shayna Seegert (‘17) agrees with using exam alternatives occasionally and says that there should “be the option to opt out [of exams]… especially if the student has a solid A in the class.” I agree with Shayna. My mom’s high school allowed exemptions from an exam if a student had an A+ in a class. It makes sense ; if a kid has done well in a class, haven’t they already proved their mastery of the content? In these situations, an exam can feel like a wasteful expenditure of stress and time.

Our strange half-day/full day schedule arrangement has drawn a lot of criticism for having a full day on the last day of school. After exams, and especially on the last day, all students want to do is go home. Having a full day just seems like an annoyance for students who have already prepared or for those who just don’t care at this point. However, the study time that full days include can be incredibly helpful for nervous or confused students. Teachers can just give the class some study time, allowing them to focus on individuals who need more help. Full days also include an open-campus lunch, which is a nice change from our normal closed-campus lunches. The full hour provides time for students to de-stress and have some fun with friends as they eat their lunch at a venue of their choice. It’s a feature of full days that students like Seegert and I support.

It’s tough to decide between half-days and full days, as both options offer strengths and weaknesses. Full days were implemented to meet requirements for how much time students must be in school, so taking them away would mean another day at school. Some students would happily take that option, but personally, I think it’s alright as it is. I value open-campus lunch and study time. It would be interesting, however, to move the full days to our term exams rather than our semester exams. Both exams have the same weight, so it wouldn’t matter too much and it’d get rid of the complaints surrounding full days on the last day of school.

Lastly, there’s the case of third term exams being just a day after spring break ends. I’ve heard so many complaints on this problem from both students and teachers. While in an ideal world everyone would study their hearts out over break and return well-rested and prepared for an exam, that’s simply not the case. Most students are busy during spring break – vacationing, touring colleges, working, competing – and don’t have the time to study. They might even be studying for any number of standardized tests. Students who are staying home are likely crashing or catching up on sleep from the tough weeks before.

Exams after a whole week without school will have a negative impact on exam scores. Some students benefit from this, such as art students scrambling to finish a portfolio. They’ll have the entire week to finish, as will other students assigned a project in place of an exam. However, more students will have exams rather than projects; therefore, more people will be affected negatively than positively by this exam schedule.

The issues we have with exams are numerous as well as complex. It’s absolutely clear that we will need some improvements in order to simplify some of the confusions we currently are encountering.