By early May, it seems the school semester would be all but over with. Lectures have become a technicality at this point, attendance is in the toilet and student morale has waned greatly. Adding final exam anxiety and the prospects of summer vacation to that, and everybody is ready to wrap things up.
This is easily the most important time in the semester grade-wise, though. This is crunch time. This is the fourth quarter. Things are down to the wire. This 15th week and finals week can make or break many students’ GPAs.
This isn’t just the last chance for irresponsible students walking a proverbial tightrope over thin, BlackBoard ice. Even students who have done their due diligence and stayed on top of things feel nervous at this time. Regardless of each class’ specific course structure, a final examination usually can move your grade up or down 5-20%. So, a fumble at the last minute could spell disaster.
This isn’t a new dilemma, either. Universities have more or less been structured like this for at least the past century. That history doesn’t mean it’s an ideal structure, though.
The biggest problem is the weight these exams hold. Unless a final exam is exceptionally cumulative — very long and diverse in question content — I doubt it truly evaluates proficiency or mastery of the course. A single test should not trump a semester’s worth of work.
What exactly am I asking for? A re-evaluation. I’m certain that professors and deans have put much thought and effort into course requirements. It’s part of their job. As students, we expend our time and effort in order to pass these courses. It’s part of our job. It’s common knowledge that students generally aren’t fond of finals. It’s not minor animosity, like the attitude for occasionally inconveniencing homework, but rather a genuine disdain for a week of tests and projects.
With that in mind, what’s being done to rectify things and satisfy students paying thousands of dollars to attend the university?
Many courses offer optional finals, meaning that students are given the choice to take a final or not. If they opt out, there are no repercussions. If they do poorly, it won’t impact their final grade.
Some professors have altered course syllabi to lessen the potential damage a final can do. For instance, finals are sometimes weighted the same as other tests in the course.
Other professors have turned to contract grading. Contract grading is when a professor and student make prior agreements that must be fulfilled in order to achieve a certain grade. For example, a student agrees to turn in four papers by the end of the semester to at least get a B letter grade.
While these techniques work, they are largely dependent on the nature of a given course. I think there’s something all professors should lean into as the semester closes — dead week.
Dead week is a practice where course loads are reduced to near zero the week before exams. Additionally, class is usually optional or treated as a study hall during this week.
If mandated, dead week could become a great compromise for students and professors. The departments that refuse to let up on final exams are appeased by keeping their ability to test students, and students in those departments would have an extra week dedicated to preparing for them. Students who are behind in coursework have more time to pull off yet another impressive feat of procrastination and academic triumph.
There are a few available options to get dead week adopted, namely through the Associated Student Body Senate. Currently, it’s outlined in the academic regulations that no test, exam, or quiz weighing more than 10% shall be administered from Wednesday to Friday during the last week of class. It should be one of ASB’s top priorities to influence the expansion of this rule to cover the entire week while also restricting attendance requirements.
To be fair, that’s an entire process in itself. Until then, a realistic route is a wink-wink-nudge-nudge, de facto understanding between students and professors to have a scheduled week in the syllabus with little to no assignments.
Either way, students are suffering as they mentally and physically strain themselves to keep up with class while simultaneously preparing for daunting exams. This shouldn’t be the case. As students, it’s on us to apply pressure in order to get what we want. In this case, let’s set our sights on getting a dead week for everyone.
Justice Rose is the opinion editor and a sophomore majoring in journalism from Madison, Miss.