Arts & Science exam schedule takes longer to complete due to large size, unclear central planning body

“Minimizing the number of students who have conflicts” seen as the main goal

Arts & Science exam schedule takes longer to complete due to large size, unclear central planning body

The Faculty of Arts & Science’s 2018 December exam schedule was released on October 31, leaving many students frustrated with the delay. According to U of T, the delay is in large part due to the size of the university and the lack of a central planning policy, which is unlike other Canadian universities.

In an interview with The Varsity, university spokesperson Elizabeth Church said that the primary focus of those in charge of structuring the exam schedule was to avoid as many conflicts as possible.

“In order to minimize conflicts in the exam timetable… it takes some extra time to look right down to the student level to look at the schedules and try to adjust them to reduce the number of students that have conflicts.”

She added that further difficulty came from needing to have course enrolment numbers finalized before the schedule could be released.

There is also little in terms of institutional policy that goes into structuring the exam schedule. Ryerson University and the University of British Columbia (UBC) were clear about their policies and sent The Varsity a detailed outline of the expectations of both students and faculty.

It is unclear who specifically is responsible for the exam schedules, as Church said that a number of different faculty and registrars from across many different departments are involved.

When asked how many staffers work on the exam schedule, she replied, “It’s hard to give a number because it involves different people across the university, so registrars as well as people who are organizing facilities and spaces as well.”

UBC planning system

Other schools such as UBC and McMaster University released their exam schedules much earlier, on October 10 and October 15 respectively.

In an email to The Varsity, UBC Associate Registrar for Enrolment Services Annie Yim specified that, “Final exam requests are collected via our Student Information System, where departments insert the final exam information received from the instructors.”

This information is then exported to an automated exam scheduler system, which prioritizes avoiding conflicts. Once the software has finalized the schedule, it is published, and then exam room locations are published two weeks later.

UBC’s deadline to finish their exam schedule this year was September 18, around a month and a half before U of T students got theirs.

Overwhelmed by term tests and papers? You’re not alone

Grouping numerous assessments in the final weeks of classes causes unnecessary stress for students

Overwhelmed by term tests and papers? You’re not alone

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.