As my peers and I progress into 300- and 400-level courses, there comes a sense of accomplishment as we near the completion of our undergraduate degrees. Yet getting closer to the finish line, the workload and expectations increase, and students can become particularly overwhelmed when a substantial amount of coursework is unloaded in the final week of the term. Especially in upper years, U of T courses often culminate in term tests and final papers, with due dates scheduled during class time instead of within the designated exam period.
Final assessments for 100- and 200-level courses are frequently scheduled during the designated exam break. When I was a first-year student, having time off from school to study became normal for me. As an upper-year, however, I became overwhelmed and angry that my exams for 300- and 400-level courses held assessments at the professor’s whim, which are often held before the exam period and during the inherently busiest weeks of the semester.
Deborah Robinson, Faculty Registrar & Director of Undergraduate Academic Services, provides a rationale for why this issue may arise: the increase of term tests experienced during the conclusion of the fall semester may be due to enrolment in full-year courses, which mostly host midterms as the first semester comes to a close. It should also be noted that specific programs recommend that professors hold tests on the last day of classes rather than have an exam during the exam period.
Yet as more professors opt for end-of-term assessments as opposed to exams, the workload snowballs for students, turning the final weeks of term into one long, stressful period of continuous coursework. Simultaneously balancing final papers,term tests, and external responsibilities in the final weeks of school collectively results in an unfair situation for students.
The exam period — during which no classes are scheduled — provides students with the opportunity to more comfortably devote meaningful time to studying. Often, when in-class tests are held during the last week of a course, students just don’t have enough time to prepare.
Furthermore, by scheduling tests before the exam period, professors do not have to comply with strict examination rules, including rules about scheduling multiple exams on the same day. Meanwhile, students are forced to choose between preparing for these assessments and completing readings for active classes, sometimes skipping lectures and tutorials to complete other work and thereby losing participation marks. Ultimately, the exerted effort of finishing exams and assignments can burn the student out and compromise their academic performance.
Tests and assignments are expected avenues for assessing students’ academic abilities, and therefore they are arguably necessary to an academic environment. What is unnecessary is having so many overlapping due dates for these assessments. Solutions to this problem should be explored to relieve students’ stress.
For example, professors could strive to manage their assigned coursework so that evaluations are spread out over the duration of the course, as opposed to being clustered in the final weeks of the semester. There could also be increased communication and coordination between instructors as to how they intend to set their deadlines, an option that might be feasible within smaller departments. If scheduling overlapping assessments is inevitable, open-book or online options might be pursued to alleviate student stress.
The University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) has also raised this issue with the U of T administration. “It’s not too much to ask that students have all of their exams scheduled during the exam period,” UTSU Vice-President University Affairs Adrian Huntelar told The Varsity.
We are now in the last leg of the semester, and an incoming wave of final assessments means that student stress will only go up. Identifying this problem, and pursuing potential solutions, should be a priority for the university before the start of the next academic year.
Erin Calhoun is a third-year student at Victoria College studying Book and Media Studies.