Exam Time Sucks

December 15, 2011


Everyone hates finals.  I know I do.  But why are they unfair?  I believe that they are not an accurate representation of peoples’ comprehension of the material for classes, and they are a poor gauge of what each student has learned.  To evaluate students at the same time for every class that they’re in can be detrimental to the grades and health of students, and is not a good guide to go off of to show teachers what their pupils have learned.

Getting a good finals schedule is the luck of the draw.  This semester, I was one of the unlucky ones.  Today alone I have two exams (with only one hour in between each of them), this blog project due, and the paper rewrite for this class due.  That is a lot to deal with.  I know I have been trying to space out my studying for everything, but I had other projects and exams earlier in the week.  Even during midterm season this semester I had three exams within one 24-hour period.  I know that I am not nearly the only one who has a schedule similar to or worse than this.  So why does so much of our grades depend on these final projects and exams?

The first reading of the semester (Live and Learn) dealt with the idea of whether or not we should be evaluated more off of our GPA or rather our general qualifications (Menard).  I definitely believe that our qualifications should be taken into account much more than our GPA when in consideration for a job, admission to a school, scholarship, etc.  Just because someone has a 4.0 GPA it doesn’t mean that they are going to be a good teacher, musician, sports broadcaster, etc., it may just mean that they are a bookworm or a good test taker.  Should the students who have multiple extra curricular activities and engage in something outside of their studies be punished for not only being a student?  Absolutely not.  Part of college is experiencing things that may interest you.  That being said, these activities may come into conflict with studying around exam time.  Your GPA won’t show if you had a rough semester, if you had bad professors, or if your classes were the easiest you’ve ever taken in your life.  It is just a number that can define your success or failure as a student.

So how does this correlate to exams?  Exams assign you a number, which is supposed to indicate your success or failure over the course of the entire semester.  You could have worked extremely hard all year and proven yourself in class on numerous occasions, but messed up the final.  Like your GPA, your exam score doesn’t show if you had three exams on the same day, if you had been up until 5:30am studying the night before, or if you had been pacing yourself for weeks to achieve your goal.  I have found that more often than not students become completely burnt out during finals time and get a much lower score than they should in relation to their knowledge about the class material.  Some students do well.  It may be because they thrive under pressure, or their exams are spaced out by days instead of hours.  These factors are out of the control of students, yet they highly influence final grades in the class.

So, how do we make finals time fairer?  It is the same problem with assigning GPAs; no evaluation system will be perfect.  If there were a better way to evaluate students, this would be the method that is currently used.  What do you suggest should be done to change the system and make it better?  Or do we resign ourselves to the fact that quantity is valued more than quality?


Menard, Louis.  Live and Learn. http://www.newyorker.com/arts/critics/atlarge/2011/06/06/110606crat_atlarge_menand.   June 6, 2011.



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8 Comments on “Exam Time Sucks”

  1. antuck Says:

    I liked your article but I disagree. For most of the classes I have taken at UM, exams have pretty thoroughly measured how well I’ve learned a subject—I feel like my organic chemistry exam scores, for instance, are an excellent indicator of how well I understand the material.

    But even when the exams don’t accurately measure how well I understand the material, they are usually the “least worst” option. We need to test intellect and knowledge somehow, and exams are a great option. In-depth interviews with one student at a time might be better, but they are hugely impractical.

    As for having a bad exam schedule, that’s completely understandable to complain about. Finals that are back-to-back and scheduled for the same day that other projects are due probably means that you won’t do as well on the finals. This is one example where the exams won’t reflect your intellect. However, this happens to every student, so it doesn’t matter.

    For example, in the winter semester of last year, I had a stats exam the same day as a chem exam. I studied insanely hard for chem but neglected stats, which I considered easier. I ended up bombing the exam and going from an A/A- to a B+. When I apply to med schools, though, they’re not going to think, “He got a B+. He must be dumber than these other students!” They’re going to look at my other grades and know it was a fluke. And med schools/law schools are competitive, but your competition probably had at least one semester with a crappy finals schedule too. So everyone is on the same footing.

    Lastly, I think that having a measurable test of knowledge forces students to study more. Personally, I would know nothing of organic chemistry if I wasn’t forced to study it 24/7 to do well on the exams.

    So is it a rat race? Yes. But it works. And even if it doesn’t, it’s still the best option we have.

  2. evanhw Says:

    Although I agree that finals really do suck, I believe they are the best method of evaluation. Unfortunately, an athlete is accepting the fact that they are going to have to work around a challenging time commitment even when it is exam week, there are really no excuses. For the majority of college students, final exams offer the best way to prove their overall mastery because there’s really no better time or way to exhibit this knowledge. I do believe however, that exams should be taken one test per day. I understand there are a ton of classes that need equal time to test their students, but having more than one test a day can seriously affect what you’ve studied for that particular day. This would allow for a more telling performance from the student because at this point there should be no excuses to do poorly. For now, I think it is only reasonable to resign to the current system.

  3. schoiidaho Says:

    I completely agree with the discontent of final exams and GPA being the deciding factors of who you are. I strongly believe that a final exam being a determining factor of your grade and your potential future is highly unfair. The thing I am most unhappy with was how uneven and unequal the curriculums are across the classes.
    For example, Anthro and Econ classes are both very big, popular classes here in Michigan. My experiences in both classes were vastly different, but similar complaints and results in the end. There are many Anthro professors, and each one has their own distinct curriculum and all have different final tests, if they all have one. In Anthro, I had an excellent professor who was very interesting and fun. I actually enjoyed going to lectures very much, but the midterms were pretty thorough and tough and mostly consisted of writing. On the other hand, one of my good friends took the exact same course with a different professor. He said the professor was boring, but he said that the tests were all esay multiple choice questions and got an A with basically putting no time and effort into the class.
    For Econ, there were also several professors, but everyone took the exact same midterms and tests no matter what. I thought this was one of the worst classes I had ever taken in my life. The professor did not know how to explain the material in an understandable way, and the lectures were extremely boring. I had to learn everything from my GSI and teaching myself by readint the textbook. When the tests came, I am sure the ones with better teachers and understood the material more clearly did a lot better than how I did.
    In addition, it is not fair for finals to decide our performance in classes. Some students put in a lot of time and effort into discussion sections, homeworks, and online assignments and do very well on them, just to find out that these basically have no effect on the final grade.
    In the end, final tests and being lucky and getting an easier curriculum or getting a better professor for certain classes will determine out GPA and out potential future. The employers and grad schools will not know and can care less about who you had ECON 101 with.

  4. jps3520 Says:

    I agree that not everything is fair with the system. If GPA was the only deciding factor in getting a job in the future, I would get picked over in a lot of scenarios. The problem for me is that I took a number of difficult courses and that hurt my grades. It hurts even more that some of these classes aren’t even needed for my major. I just wish that there was some way to let anyone who might be looking at my transcript know how difficult my classes are, and how many difficult classes I took at once. The part of this that isn’t fair is that I take hard and challenging classes that hurt my GPA while others take easy classes and have higher grades. This is just the way the system is, and the other person in this scenario worked it better than I did. That’s my fault, but some of the hard classes I took were to keep my options open for the concentrations I was looking at.

    Another thing that was mentioned in a comment above is the unfairness between people in the same class with different teachers. I’ve been on both sides of this. In ECON 101 I had one of the good teachers, I ended up doing pretty well with much less effort than a lot of other people who took the same class. In Calc 2, however, I was not so lucky. I landed a teacher who wasn’t the greatest at speaking English and explaining things in a way that I could understand. I understand that there were probably worse teachers, but we were below average in our test scores compared to the other sections. In this situation, it’s not fair that people have different teachers who are taking the same test. If it isn’t possible to get everyone the same teacher, this is probably the best system. If they allowed each teacher to give out their own tests it could be a lot worse because teachers write tests with different levels of difficulty. I don’t think this aspect has a good chance of being changed.

    Anyway, as far as the system goes, I don’t know if we’ll be able to change it. I certainly don’t have any solutions that would be more fair. For example, how would somebody looking at your transcript know all the details behind what happened that semester? More in-depth grading system with like a write up from the professor? This isn’t practical. I suppose I could explain the contents on my transcript, but how much credibility do I have talking about my own academics?

  5. albosco Says:

    I agree with a lot of your post, especially about how unlucky exam schedules can be and the impact that can have. Personally, I have a very lucky exam schedule this semester, but a lot of my roommates and friends do not. I have a lot of time to spread out my studying, but I have been watching my roommates struggle to cram everything in, not knowing which exam to study for first. I think hectic exam schedules play a big part and how well someone can prepare for them. There are a lot of other factors that can affect someone’s ability to prepare for an exam. Because of this, I agree that a high GPA doesn’t necessarily mean that they are most qualified. It just means that they were good at getting high scores. There are many things that are left out of the GPA and it is unfair that a number so selective to information is going to be the judge of most of the rest of our lives.

    As for exams being an evaluation of the class, I think that they do a decent job. There really is no other way, besides maybe writing a paper, for teachers to determine that their students have been learning all semester. I guess the process could be a little less stressful, but UofM is a big school with a lot of students, it would be impossible to make accommodations for every student. Finals week is something that we just can’t avoid.

  6. pelarkin Says:

    While I agree with your beliefs that so much emphasis being placed on finals is not necessarily the best way to evaluate a student’s academic progress, I don’t really think that there is a better way to evaluate students.

    While exam schedules are really awful sometimes, that is just pure bad luck, and there is no one you can blame for that. While some students might get more time to prepare for each exam and therefore get better grades, they just got really lucky this semester, and at some point, their exam schedules will suck too. In the end, logic says that everyone will suffer from exam schedules equally.

    However, I am of the opinion that students themselves place too much emphasis on GPA. While GPA is certainly important in determining where you might start your career after college, further down the road, future employers really will not care about your college GPA. They will care more about your experience in the market and the quality of your work done since you came out of college. While students who had higher GPAs during their time in school might start out with a slightly better job than students whose GPAs were lower, in the end, the real determination of a person’s career is the quality of the work they can do when they are out in the real world. If it is true that they attained their GPA just by studying for large amounts of time in college, then their work will almost certainly suffer do to the fact that they placed too much emphasis on studying for a test, instead of placing emphasis on learning and understanding the concepts, which is necessary to be able to succeed in any job market, no matter what career you decide to go into.

  7. pjbiondi Says:

    I too agree with most of your post, especially about how exam schedules are not fair. This semester i have a couple of exams on the same day and they run late into December. My last final is the 21st which doesn’t seem that bad but it only gives me a minimal amount of time at home until I have to come back to school for athletic purposes. My friend, who is on the hockey team, has his last final on the 21st and he is from the southern part of the United States. He has to return on the 26th for hockey so he only gets four days at home. He emailed his professor and asked to take it early so he could spend a little more time at home with his family and she responded saying that his time at home isn’t her priority. Where I can see where she is coming from, it just doesn’t make sense why she won’t let him take the exam early. Teachers and the University should be able to accommodate issues like his.

    Exams really do show how well someone does in a class. I do hate exams but it’s undeniable that they express how well a student learned the material throughout the semester. I don’t think there are any other ways to determine how well a student learned the material.

  8. schoemad Says:

    I totally agree with what you stated in this article. Exam time is really rough for a lot of students, and you can definitely tell that it is unfair to some. Personally, I have always had it pretty easy with my exam schedule. I think it’s because of the classes I take and my major. My major is Asian Studies, therefore most of my classes are humanities and languages. For someone who is looking to get their Bachelor of Sciences, their exam schedule is going to be terrible every year. Science and mathematics classes usually have an exam, while the humanities classes usually require some sort of paper. This class is one of the classes that I had a paper to do and I think that a paper is the best choice for finals. During exam season, the GPA is what it’s all about. No one really cares about retaining the knowledge for the future. Luckily, with the science and mathematics classes concepts build on one another throughout the year. I know that theory 2 is more important in the end, but during exam time, everyone just cares about theory 1.

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