At the end of last semester, students saw a preview of the University’s new fall exam schedule that will be in effect for the next five years. Beginning with the 2009-2010 school year, the fall exam schedule will feature two blocks of exam periods preceded by two days of a reading period. Previously, students had four weekdays to study before exams.
The registrar presented this new schedule to the Education Policy Committee (EPC) in order to institute a system that would allow students to leave campus earlier than in previous years.
“If we continued to schedule reading period and exam period in the previous method there would have been fall semesters where the last day of exams fell on Dec. 23,” said Registrar Anna van der Burg. “This has happened in previous academic calendars and students complained that it was too late and made it difficult to get home for the winter break.”
The University’s academic calendar is set in advance and changes only slightly in five-year cycles. According to van der Burg, while the new reading period/exam period schedule was approved for the fall 2009 to spring 2014 five-year calendar, the faculty approved the proposition to apply the schedule one year early to assess the success of the change before permanently implementing it.
While students on the WSA initially opposed a decrease to the number of days in the exam period, it was ultimately decided that additional time for students to travel home was more important.
“Honestly, students were using that time for more than just studying,” said EPC student member Benedict Bernstein ’09. “It was more important that students be able to go home than that reading week be excessively long. Six days and even four days is much longer than most schools. We did oppose this two years ago, with the recognition that students appreciated length. But ultimately, it is better for students to be able to get a plane ticket home.”
This issue of travel applies particularly to international students, for whom tickets are harder and more expensive to purchase closer to Christmas Day. Prior to the change in the exam schedule, it was not uncommon for international students to have to go home after Christmas.
“[Last year] my ticket was almost $2,000 and at that time oil prices were not that high,” said Vickie Cheng ’10. “I got the last seat in September, when it was almost fully booked. For international students it’s good to leave early.”
For other students, however, the revised schedule was not as beneficial. According to Wesleyan Student Assembly (WSA) president Mike Pernick, the reduced time to complete papers, attend review sessions and prepare for exams did not give students sufficient time to complete work to the best of their ability.
“My take on the facts is they took away two days from reading week, renamed the weekend reading week and hoped people wouldn’t care,” Pernick said. “A lot of students suffered from the change, especially if they had papers due in the beginning. They went from six days to two days to do papers. People who needed to review for exams and have review sessions, couldn’t because there were only two days to do reviews before exams started.”
Last semester, students taking several science classes found that their exams were scheduled for the first two days of the exam period, leaving them little time to prepare. Due to the weekly schedule of classes and the corresponding organization of the exam schedule, science courses were placed in the first two days of exams, while humanities exams predominately took up the last two.
“I thought it was much more stressful for me, especially because [my exams were at] 9 a.m. and 10 a.m. and they were right next to each other,” said Nic Wilder ’10. “I spent a good 26 hours in Sci Li over the course of two days. There were a few of us in there and that’s all we did. Once it was done we were a little insane at that point.”
According to Wilder, it is a difficult feat to prepare for several science exams in such a short period, given the volume of information that students are expected to know. In the old exam schedule, students had more time to prepare.
“I generally think people didn’t particularly like [the new exam schedule],” Bernstein said. “That being said, students don’t really ever like change. I don’t feel that the structure is in any way unfair. I think students should be able to get their work done.”
According to van der Burg, a generic exam schedule is available to students far in advance on the registrar’s home page.
Nevertheless, Pernick believes it is possible to create an exam schedule that allows students to leave campus early enough, yet still includes an adequate reading week that makes it possible for students to excel academically.
A possible change in Freshmen Orientation Week may make this idea a reality. The Dean of Student Affairs office has proposed to shorten freshmen orientation by one or two days, to be implemented in 2010.
“We did research with NESCAC peers and everyone except Tufts has four or five day programs,” said Dean of Student Affairs Mike Whaley. “Tufts has six and we have seven. We think it makes sense, partly financially, to reduce our operating budget. We also have observed that the first four days is hectic, and the three day weekend is lax. We will move optional programs out of orientation to first few weeks of school.”
Reducing the length of Orientation may lead to a re-evaluation of the academic calendar to reorganize the faculty advisor meetings that take place during Orientation. If days are cut from Orientation, faculty advisor meetings may have to take place over the weekend, which could be a problematic result for both faculty and students.
Ultimately, the faculty will make the final decision on whether to rearrange the academic calendar to prevent weekend advisor meetings.
“The most favorable change pushes back the arrival day by one day and would start classes on Labor Day, one day early, so the faculty advisors would work Thursday and Friday,” Whaley said. “Whether the teachers teach on Labor Day is up to the faculty.”
Cutting one day from Orientation and reorganizing the academic calendar presents the WSA with an opportunity to negotiate a reinstitution of the prior fall exam schedule.
“With budget cuts, you cut orientation by one day, shift forward the academic calendar and add a day to reading week.” Pernick said. “That’s the compromise we’re looking to push for. Cutting one day for orientation is unfortunate but doing so gets a reading week that allows students time to do enough work.”