Administrators discourage early exams

Students and professors making travel arrangements to return home at the end of the semester may not want to book their tickets just yet.

Just two weeks into the new school year, University administrators, prompted by student complaints, are trying to get the word out to faculty not to schedule semester-end tests outside the official final exam period. In past years, some teachers have given finals on the last day of class and skipped the designated testing period, a violation of school policy.

“We’re bringing this to the attention of the University community that students, on some level, have brought it to our attention that some faculty are not following this policy,” said Donald Lehman, executive vice president for Academic Affairs. “We’re emphasizing that this is an important part of how we teach at GW.”

The University policy states that all finals are to be given at the time allotted during the final examination period unless all students in the class agree to a different time. Lehman said that each year he receives a number of complaints from students who said that early test scheduling subtracts a day that would otherwise be used for instruction – and for which they are being charged tuition.

“The students are paying a lot of money to be educated over a 14 week period,” said Lehman. “For students who are paying a tuition of the magnitude that one pays at GW … it would seem that they should expect to receive 14 full weeks of instruction.”

In addition, officials argue, early finals undermine the purpose of reading days, the period between the end of classes and the finals period that is set aside for studying. Craig Linebaugh, associate vice president for academic planning and special projects, said that the time is intended to aid students.

“The benefit to holding exams in the final examination period is that students benefit from being able to use the reading days to prepare for their exams,” Linebaugh said. “You’re better able to use the time to reflect on the knowledge you’ve attained and apply it better.”

Officials said the motivation to schedule exams on the last day of classes can stem from either students or professors, both of which might be seeking to get a jump start on winter break. Lehman said there are often students who request early finals after purchasing nonrefundable plane tickets.

“There are a lot of reasons why this could be happening,” Lehman said. “Some students might be putting pressure on (their professors) because they decide, for whatever reason, to schedule their tickets in advance before they know when their tests are.”

This year, the issue is somewhat complicated by the fact that the University has not yet released a tentative finals schedule. Professors are usually informed of when they can most likely expect their exam times to be at the beginning of each semester, but the process has been delayed due to the new time bands put in place this fall.

Linebaugh, who oversees the design of the academic calendar, said he hopes to have the schedule complete within the next few weeks. In the meantime, his advice to professors and students is to prepare to be on campus as late as possible.

Early finals can be a blessing or a burden for students depending on how the end of the semester plays out. Some said having an exam while classes are still in progress can conflict with other obligations.

“It depends on what the class is and what else you’ve got going on,” said Rachel Nakanishi, a senior majoring in marketing. “If you’ve got another project due around the same time, it’d probably be better to take them in the exam period.”

Other students said early exams give them a chance to spread out their study time, which lets them prepare for each test more thoroughly.

“It allows you a longer period of time where you have to take all your exams,” senior Ben Spears said. “If you’ve got four finals and two of your professors give them on the last day of classes, you’ve got more time to prepare for the other two.”

Ultimately, administrators said, the issue is one of fairness. If all students cannot agree on a different time, the finals schedule should remain as it is.

“There are many instances in where some of the students are asking the faculty member, ‘Can you please give us the exam early?'” said Linebaugh, “so it works both ways. My feeling is that if one student in class wants to take the exam in the final exam period, then that’s when it should be.”

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