Daily Egyptian

Exam schedule change could lighten student workload

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Daily Egyptian file photo

Daily Egyptian file photo

Daily Egyptian file photo

By Cory Ray

Three professors are developing a new exam scheduling system because they say students’ workloads are too heavy during finals week.

Fall 2016 university data shows 11 percent of students, 1,688 exam takers, had at least three exams on the same day during finals week. The number  of students in spring 2016 taking three or more exams in a single day was about the same.

Using an algorithm they created, these professors have managed to lower that number by hundreds, working to halve the original number.

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“It doesn’t help us if you work all semester and then you crash on your final exam because you’re in the third exam, six contiguous hours of exams on the same day, and you’re exhausted and burned out and you don’t do as well as you should do,” geology professor Ken Anderson said. “That hurts everybody. Faculty don’t want that anymore than students want that.”

The proposal is the brainchild of two geology professors, Anderson and Steve Esling, as well as engineering professor James Mathias.

“We saw that something was broken and it needed to be fixed,” Esling said.

Esling said the new scheduling system was created using a randomizer, which computes millions of scenarios to find the one closest to their optimal number of roughly 800 students taking three or more exams within the same day.

“We’ve been running, I think, four million simulations and picking the lowest number there,” Esling said.

A fixed exam schedule — in which exams are scheduled based largely on each class time slot — went into effect four years ago, and Anderson said faculty and students have been arguing the schedule since then.

“All we had to go on then was anecdotal evidence,” Anderson said.

Now, he said there is quantifiable evidence suggesting the scheduling system needs to be revised.

Anderson officially presented the measure Tuesday night to both the Undergraduate Student Government and the Graduate and Professional Student Council. He said he also preliminary proposed the idea to the Faculty Senate.

The student government bodies will vote on their support or lack thereof in the coming weeks. If supported, their recommendation will move to the Faculty Senate.

If the Faculty Senate also recommends the measure, it will move to the provost’s office, where a new system could then be enacted or rejected.

“We have these raw numbers, and they’re right in front of us,” said Nate Jordan, USG press secretary and Final Exam Committee member. “It’s really hard to state opposition toward it.”

The algorithm the professors created only takes into account daytime classes, not night classes, Anderson said.

Besides changing how final exams are scheduled, the professors are also proposing two other revisions: that the common math and English exams no longer be held back-to-back and that students with three or more back-to-back exams receive rescheduling accommodations.

Official accommodations allow changes in a students’ exam schedules if they have four or more exams in the same day. Anderson he expects adding accommodations for students with three back-to-back exams to be the most controversial part of the proposal.

He said it may be a particular challenge to pass this part of the measure because professors would have to give more students tests in time frames outside of the scheduled one.

“That creates a lot of headaches for faculty,” he said. “It’s a security issue: what if the student goes and tells his or her friends what’s on the exam?”

Anderson, however, said many faculty members already have measures in place to prevent such issues.

Currently, the math and English common exams are held one right after the other on a Monday, but as many first-year students take the classes at the same time, Anderson said it could be the source of frustration for students.

He said the Monday scheduling makes sense: the two departments must grade large amounts of student work in a short amount of time. In light of that, he’s proposing the Monday slot should alternate between the two departments between the fall and spring semesters. The other exam would move to Tuesday.

“If we could separate them by just one day, it cuts the number of conflicts down a lot,” he said.

While Anderson said that would mean a grading day lost for one department, officials in the registrar’s office have given faculty additional days to submit grades following a change in paper to electronic submissions.

Anderson said he has spoken with the math department, which is supportive of the proposal. He said he has been in preliminary talks with the English department, but he has yet to have a formal meeting with English professors to propose the idea.

But he does note that using a randomized scheduling system has its drawbacks: the schedule could either be based on data from the previous year or on the current make up of classes.

Under the first example, Anderson said this would mean 10 percent more students than their ideal number of 800 would have three exams on the same day.

Under the second, he said students would not know their final exams until a month into the semester, and that could present problems for those with travel already planned.

“They might want to book flights or something way in advance to get the best prices,” he said.

He said the question presented to students and faculty in determining the adoption of a new system is to determine what is the best system presented. He said there is no system in which zero students would have to take more than two exams in a day.

“We need to decide where the balance lies,” he said. “That’s why it needs to be a collective decision.”

Staff writer Cory Ray can be reached at cray@dailyegyptian.com or on Twitter @coryray_de.

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