As we arrive in December and the semester draws to a close, U of T students are forced to grapple with the ramping up of classes, the approach of exams, and the intensification of winter.

The brutality of this time is particularly felt by students with final assignments and exams that are due during the regular class period. They have to juggle their regular class schedules, readings, and smaller assignments with huge final assignments and ‘term tests’ in the very same week. This puts an unfair amount of pressure on students to constantly perform, without being given any downtime.

The unfairness of it all

This pre-exam period practice only further renders students overworked, overwhelmed, or even hopeless, and adds to the stress and anxiety that they already feel as the exam period arrives. As mental health awareness rises, it seems contradictory to allow the practice of in-course finals or assignments while supposedly supporting students’ well-being.

There’s a reason why the exam period was established as a separate entity from the regular schedule of classes: to help mitigate the intensity of studying for final exams while trying to keep up with regular classes. While professors have a right to enjoy their Decembers, students should not have to pay for it.

Professors also have to adhere to having the final due date of all papers and term tests by the last day of class. This means that if a paper is due this late in the term, students with accommodations may not be able to implement their extra time, because the university gives professors very little freedom to grade papers once school has finished for the semester. This often results in students struggling to finish papers, while also having to start studying for their finals.

Furthermore, this practice puts students with final assignments and term tests at a significant disadvantage to their counterparts who are tested solely in the exam period. These students are given much more time to prepare, organize, and even take a break.

Are we human, or are we robots?

University is supposed to teach students how to think critically and engage with new material. Students are told that this is their chance to expand their horizons, learn more about themselves, and explore different ways of thinking.

But cramming assignments and exams in the last two weeks of November and early December teaches students to be robotic and mechanically pump out content that they know their professors want. Ultimately, they are driven by the need to produce and the mission to get a high grade.

The sheer volume of responsibilities heaped upon students inhibits the genuine learning, growth, and development that they want to derive from the classroom in the first place. While time management is a vital life skill that is developed at university, there is a difference between being responsible and being overwhelmed. Students aren’t given Time-Turners with their admission letters, and shouldn’t be expected to perform as if they had.

Grades over happiness

There is also the added pressure of taking part in extracurricular activities, maintaining a social life, and, for many, the added burden of having to focus on finances. The unspoken rhetoric that ‘if you aren’t doing everything, then you aren’t doing enough’ is heightened during the exam period and, typically, something ends up falling through the cracks. Unfortunately, it’s usually mental health.

At any university, particularly one as academically rigorous as U of T, it is difficult for students to feel as though they are excelling simply by having high grades. Therefore, they often balance feelings of inadequacy with other creative outlets. However, grades will almost always be the main focus of their university careers.

When there are term tests and papers due before the exam period begins, it is difficult for students to escape from the monotony and pressure that comes with being examined, and they therefore stop prioritizing other aspects of their lives that make them happy. After all, there is nothing more important than that A-grade.

Being kinder to students

Going forward, professors should be held to a higher standard of course organization. If professors prefer to assign a final paper instead of an exam, but they weight the paper as if it were an exam, then that paper should be due in the exam period — not during regular classes. Furthermore, if a ‘term test’ is used as a metonym for a full-year course midterm or a half-year course final, it should likewise take place in the exam period.

In other words, the expectation should be that any assignment, test, or paper that is being marked as if it were a final exam should be due when an exam would be. If one is being swapped for the other, the swap shouldn’t carry repercussions for students.

Students should also be given time to breathe between the end of classes and the beginning of the exam period. They should not be burnt out before they have sat their first final.

Grades and exams can themselves be relatively arbitrary, but they can also have a significant impact on the rest of a student’s academic career, especially in upper years. In a world where employment is increasingly precarious and undergraduate degrees seem to matter less, students are constantly worried about their futures. They should feel supported by their university, not hindered by it.

U of T prides itself on being the leading university in Canada. However, if the institution wants to maintain this high standard, it needs to start being kinder to its students. U of T students are doing their best, but they also need to be provided with a secure safety net. Unfortunately, the brand name just isn’t going to cut it.

The Varsity’s editorial board is elected by the masthead at the beginning of each semester. For more information about the editorial policy, email editorial@thevarsity.ca.