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USG Academics Committee proposes reforms to final exams

Changes could be coming to the University’s final examinations period.USG Academics Committee chair Dillon Sharp ’14 presented a series of recommendations for the final examinations period to the Faculty Committee on Examinations and Standing on Friday. His proposalsranged from giving extensions for Dean’s Date assignments to creating a faculty-student committee that could help formalize how Reading Period is utilized.

“I was very happy coming out of that meeting,” Sharp said. “I think that they received the recommendations well and I think that they appreciated the values that each one had.”

The recommendations presented at the meeting partly came out of discussions Sharp had with numerous administrators, professors and residential college directors of study. Sharp also used data collected in a student survey completed by approximately 10 percent of the student population across class years and courses of study.

Dean of the College Valerie Smith said the committee appreciated Sharp's work and that he received "a very warm response," but hesitated to discuss how the committee might respond.

“I think that it would be premature to characterize the committee’s responses to individual recommendations until we’ve had a chance to think about them more closely and talk about them more,” Smith said.

One proposal was to limit the time period for a take-home exam to a maximum of 12 hours from beginning to end. Any assessment longer than 12 hours, Sharp said, should be given as a Dean’s Date assignment.

Sharp explained that there are only three sentences regulating the use of take-home tests in examination guidelines, which leaving a lot up to a professor’s interpretation.

“They’re kind of the Wild West of exams,” Sharp said in describing the tests. “A professor can put it whenever they want, they can do a lot with them, which is why professors like them. So part of this 12-hour limit thing is reining these in a little bit.”

He also recommended that the period during which a take-home exam can be administered be lengthened, suggesting that take-home tests become available the Friday after Dean’s Date rather than the Monday after Dean’s Date.

Sharp recommended that students should also be allowed to reschedule an examination if they are assigned an evening exam and another exam the next morning. Since students are currently allowed to reschedule exams that fall on the same day, Sharp argued that students should be allowed to reschedule consecutive exams that might cause a student to get little sleep and take the test at a disadvantage.

Sharp and the committee ran out of time during the meeting before the scheduling of finals examinations could be discussed. The Academics Committee recommended that the fall semester final examinations be placed before winter break rather than after, but the committee did not have time to discuss this recommendation.

“The fall exams placement thing is always controversial, so that will need a whole separate discussion,” Sharp said.

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The committee will meet next in November. Smith said the discussion will continue at that point.

“I think the committee is open to making some changes. I think if we weren’t open to making changes, we wouldn’t have had the conversation with him,” Smith said.

Should the committee decide to make changes, Smith said, the changes would have to go through formal processes involving other committees.