IMAM AND MULVIHILL: The testing status quo is just fine

There is no significant need to overhaul the University’s administration of exams

Last week, Opinion columnist Sawan Patel wrote a piece arguing students should have more freedom in determining test dates. Patel contended that having multiple tests and essays with overlapping deadlines can be a cause of stress that “doesn’t prepare students for the real world.” This, paired with his view that instituting such flexibility could be done with “relative ease,” led to his conclusion that it only makes sense to get rid of our current system of test scheduling. While this idea is sympathetic to the emotional needs and welfare of the student body, it fails to recognize the long-term benefits of having multiple deadlines overlap with one another and the logistical challenges that implementing such a testing schedule would present. Patel’s idea of more flexible testing dates should not be instituted.

With an increasing number of students seeking out resources at Counseling and Psychological Services, mental health is clearly a pressing issue at the University. Patel is right to express concern for a possible source of the stress students face. However, deadlines and the stress they often induce are not just a part of academic pursuits, but a part of life in general, and simply getting rid of a source of stress is hardly an effective means to help those suffering from it to cope.

Given the nature of competition in the American workforce, an education at the university level should prepare one for life after graduation and better equip one with the skills necessary to thrive in the workforce. Most people should agree that handling stress well and time management are two exceedingly important such skills. One cannot be a competitive job applicant and a worthy employee if one cannot meet deadlines. College is a time to refine time management skills so that students can ultimately achieve success in the workforce, and Patel’s idea would interfere with that. If students see additional flexibility in deadlines at the University, they will not be prepared to meet deadlines in the real world. Deadlines are not chosen in the workplace — they are set and followed. Treating students to flexibility in college will not benefit them in the future.

With this in mind, Patel says that “the dread from having two tests on the same day or a paper and a test… is an unnecessary and meaningless struggle that teaches no lessons.” This is startlingly shortsighted. It only makes sense that time and stress management are best learned from first-hand experience. By forcing students to follow a set schedule, students are left to plan ahead in order to learn the material necessary to receive their desired grade. Since one could also argue grades are in large part a reflection of one’s discipline, this also leaves those most deserving of the top grades to receive them. Rather than getting rid of the sources of stress students may be facing, the University should implement programs to help students manage their time and stress levels in a more effective way.

Though Patel champions the “relative ease” of implementation for his plan, it would likely cause more problems than he is imagining. A plan like this could be feasible for final exams, during which time the schedule is preset, but it would be difficult to implement throughout the semester, when classes are still running and everyone’s schedules are filled with those classes and extracurriculars. Furthermore, the University already makes accommodations for students with compact final exam schedules, as students can submit a form to modify their schedules if they have too many exams in a 48-hour period.

Also, Patel proposes a window for test taking and paper writing, but many students would likely come in on the last day to maximize study time. When it comes to writing essays, this window is not even needed. A student could just write a paper ahead of time if they knew that an exam was approaching.

The concept of testing windows for examinations could cause additional problems related to fairness. Though we live in a community of trust, is still important to take precautions against cheating when possible, and testing windows would create an opportunity for students to share test questions with their classmates. This would give some students an unfair advantage in test taking and could lead to higher grades for those who don’t deserve them. Patel’s plan, though good for student mental health, could aggravate the potential for collusion by students, which should be prevented if possible.

Though Patel’s plan is impractical, students and professors could work together to see results similar to those that he is proposing. Professors could poll students to choose an ideal test date so that the best date could be chosen by a majority of the class. This could be successful, even in large lectures, through the use of an online poll making system such as Doodle Poll. This alternate proposal could also alleviate some of Patel’s concerns regarding students sacrificing their grade in one class to study for another. The answer to alleviating some of the student stress related to exam periods is enhanced communication with professors rather than an entirely new testing system.

Coming up with a bulletproof solution for the University to help students better cope with stress-induced deadlines is a tall order. Still, some solutions that may be feasible include emphasizing available resources to first years as they begin their time here and offering workshops discussing time and stress management. The University needs to emphasize learning stress management skills from the get go, and targeting first years from the beginning of their time at the University is the best way to do that.

Even if Patel’s idea of creating test windows weren’t logistically impractical, implementing it would still fail to acknowledge the long-term benefits of time and stress management skills. While testing schedules can easily be a source of stress and are in many cases determined by sheer luck, they are also more representative of conditions that students will face as they graduate and step out into the real world. For the University to get rid of a source of stress would not truly address the needs of the students suffering from it. Furthermore, doing so would also result it in the University’s not fulfilling its purpose of preparing us for life after graduation. For this reason, students should strive to adapt to the situation in which they are placed and collaborate with professors to appease testing issues.

Alyssa Imam and Carly Mulvihill are Opinion columnists for The Cavalier Daily. They can be reached at a.imam@cavalierdaily.com and c.mulvihill@cavalierdaily.com, respectively.

related stories