Slashing the final exam schedule: jeopardizing students?

By Kaitlyn McCormick

College finals are often the most stressful period of students’ academic semester, and now that stress will be condensed into a five-day schedule.

On Oct. 5, Rider’s University Academic Policy Committee (UAPC) voted to condense the schedule week for finals from a nine-day to a five-day schedule, eliminating the scheduled reading day for students and instead including various blocks of free time for students.

The recommendation for this schedule change comes from the Calendar Task Force, which was convened by Provost DonnaJean Fredeen in the spring of 2020. The Task Force is co-chaired by Professor Maria Sanchez and Registrar Sue Stefanick.

The Task Force surveyed faculty and students regarding condensing the finals week schedule. According to the data collected, 28% of faculty preferred to keep the nine-day exam schedule, 62% preferred to switch to a compressed five-day schedule and 10% indicated “another preference.”

The student survey, however, had much closer results. Of the students surveyed, 51% indicated a preference for the five-day schedule and 49% indicated a preference for keeping the nine-day schedule with a reading day.

“We know that a lot of other schools do have a more condensed exam schedule, and it’s something we were considering here, but we wanted to make sure that the students were satisfied with whatever decision we made,” said Stefanick. “We also went out to other schools to benchmark what other schools were doing as well, and we found that most of them were doing a four or five-day exam schedule.”

The close split in the student survey poses the question of whether this change will be the most conducive to student success.

Sophomore biochemistry major Emma Zinser expressed hesitancy about this schedule change and said, “Those reading days are really important because, at least for me, you can’t study for five exams all at the same time.”

Sophomore psychology major Jenna Rosa also shared a similar impression of this change to the finals schedule.

“I believe that students need a break during the week to have a mental health day and to get their things together and to have an extra study day because if we take tests five days in a row we’re not going to do well on our exams,” Rosa said.

The mock schedule for this five-day period, which may be subject to change, includes blocks of free time ranging from two-and-a-half to five hours where exams won’t be scheduled.

Rosa’s take on these free blocks replacing a reading day is that they won’t be congruent in their effects.

“The breaks just aren’t gonna do much for students, and finals week is very stressful, so adding this and having to work around Rider’s schedule for this I feel like they’re not thinking about our mental health and overall well-being,” she said. In explanation, Stefanick said that these blocks of time are intended “for people to have their juries for Westminster, meetings or anything else they need to have.”

These scheduled periods, especially the ones that fall around 8 to 10 a.m. are a double-edged sword, because on one hand, while it’s nice to have no exams in that block, there begs the question of how well students will be able to utilize random hours off throughout the day when it comes to sleeping, working or hopefully studying. It’s also important to note that if these blocks of time are also sectioned off with the dual purpose of providing time for meetings and juries, then they are not alleviating any of the stress of finals week.

According to Stefanick, there may be some flexibility to the free blocks in the newly condensed exam schedule, but that depends largely on the rigidity of classroom availability.

“There’s a limit to how much you can move some of the exam periods around. Some periods have to stay where they are, some can be moved, because of classroom conflict. When the exams are meeting in classrooms, there’s a limit to what you can do and how you can move different periods,” Stefanick said.

Student Government Association (SGA) Vice President for Student Affairs Andrew Bernstein attended the Oct. 5 UAPC meeting on behalf of the student body. He explained his role in an interview with The Rider News.

“The concerns I brought up were by eliminating these reading days, do we then make finals week more of a burdensome experience for students because you’re kind of cramming everything into that five days,” said Bernstein.

“They tried to, I think, weigh that with some restrictions on what they called ‘student intensive activities’ during finals week.”

An example of these activities would be research projects. According to Bernstein, there was a lot of discussion about weighing the give-and-take of condensing the schedule along with the student workload in this five-day period.

The decision to condense finals week, influenced by both the Calendar Task Force’s recommendation as well as the UAPC’s vote despite a split consensus from students will undoubtedly affect each student differently. Though other schools have had success with a tighter exam schedule, the main priority of Rider moving forward with this decision should be to make the finals week experience the least burdensome to students as possible. This means listening and valuing the student perspective, especially when this ruling goes into effect in the fall of 2022.

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