Professors maintain pandemic-inspired exam formats to ease student anxiety

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Penn professors ran a mix of face-to-face and online exams this semester.

Photo credit: Savanna Cohen

Several professors have kept pandemic-inspired changes to the interim semesters this semester to help students, but both professors and students are still struggling with the added stress of preparing for face-to-face exams after three virtual semesters.

Professors told The Daily Pennsylvanian that online learning has influenced the way they hold mid-term exams and that the return to personal education has eliminated concerns about academic integrity. The students, meanwhile, said that the balance between personal social life and extra-curricular activities involving inter-semesters had caused anxiety.

Professors keep many exam formats inspired by the pandemic

This semester, many lecturers have integrated the advantages they have gained from using online platforms into their midterms.

Lecturer Harry Smith and Assistant Professor Eric Fouh, who are teaching CIS 110: “Introduction to Computer Programming” this semester, said that while the pre-pandemic class was administering traditional blue book / paper interim semesters with closed grades, the class decided To continue taking exams online this year. Fouh said the online open exams resulted in slightly higher intermediate grades and reduced students’ fear and tendency to cram right before exams.

“For two hours you have no resources and you have to answer the questions,” Fouh said of traditional paper exams. “Personally, I think it creates fear for very little benefit.”

Similarly, marketing professor Cait Lamberton, who teaches MKTG 101, “Introduction to Marketing,” said that she has chosen to continue using Canvas this semester for her interim semesters, which are now supervised during personal recitations.

She said online midterms “balance” the student exam experience with accommodation and enable individualized testing because the exam comes from a question bank and asks a different set of questions for each student. She added that the online format helps prevent fraud.

Another change professors are making is to include more “low-stake” assignments like weekly quizzes to offset the high exam grades this semester, which is another change they made during the pandemic.

Economics professor Anne Duchene built weekly quizzes into her classes while studying online and kept them this semester, while physics professor Christopher Mauger took them on this semester. Like Fouh, Duchene said that the quizzes encourage their students to learn concepts as they go, rather than learning everything at once before the intermediate and final exams.

Mathematics professor Robert Ghrist and the director of the Portuguese language program Mercia Santana Flannery have also switched their midterm formats to a larger number of exams that are individually less valuable due to distance learning.

“It makes a lot of sense for me to take small tests and check regularly that they are learning the grammatical structures and that they can express the ideas and points of view in writing,” said Flannery.

Some professors, including physics professor Christopher Mauger and chemistry professor Donald H. Berry, who increased the number of online exams during the pandemic, have now reduced the number of tests they give to students this semester.

While Mauger was teaching his PHYS 150: Principles of Physics I: Mechanics and Wave Motion course last fall, which included five remote exams to reduce the impact of individual grades, he returned to his previous exam schedule – two mid-term exams and one Final exam. Berry added in an email that his reasoning for redesigning the exam schedule for his CHEM 102: “General Chemistry II” course was based on student feedback.

“The [four] Intermediate semesters were supposed to ease the stress on the students, but most of the students told me they did [four] Instead of [three] just increased the stress, ”wrote Berry.

Adaptation to the stress of the personal interim semester

Despite intent on enhancing the students’ exam experience, professors and students alike have said that there is a unique type of stress associated with inter-personal interim semesters. Some students find it particularly difficult to adjust to face-to-face exams after many months of taking virtual exams, which often had an “open-note” policy.

Lamberton said she saw college students, especially sophomores, struggle to adapt to both personal life and a challenging series of courses and exams. They didn’t experience the typical “slow start” of the first semester, she said, where the first few years take a lighter course load as they get used to campus life.

“I think there is an added layer of stress this year as they often move into more advanced and challenging courses in areas that they expect to be their major, while at the same time trying to integrate into this new community” , Called Lamberton.

Wharton sophomore Hamad Shah reiterated those sentiments, saying he was fearful of his mid-term exams this semester – his first personal exams at Penn. Shah said he was struggling to be “more easily distracted” this semester compared to spring as personal campus life brought more friends and freedom to participate in various activities.

One of the reasons Edward Lopez, who studied in college secondary, experienced added stress this semester was the closed-ended exam format for his PHYS 150: Principles of Physics I: Mechanics and Wave Motion.

“Overall, I think it’s been more stressful just because a lot of us got used to relying on our notes to some extent, and now we don’t have that available,” Lopez said.

Similarly, college senior Jillian Wong said the transition back to personal exams was challenging for her – especially the memorization that was required for her to study CHEM 251: “Principles of Biological Chemistry” and BIBB 251: “Molecular and Cellular Neurobiology “Midterms.

“Last semester when it was out of the way there was more [of an] Emphasis on conceptual things, which I think are more of an accurate representation of how things will look in a professional, real-world setting, ”said Wong.

Wong added that professors may no longer consider the difficulties students face outside of the classroom.

“Last year when we were far away, I think a lot more professors gave more weight to the fact that so many people are having a hard time and struggling with life,” said Wong. “People still have a very difficult time outside of academics, and that affects their academics. And I think that the professors may have lost sight of that a bit. ”

Students and professors informed the DP in October 2020 that difficulties regulating online exams led to a wave of cheats during the virtual semester. But this year professors largely said that personal fraud made it less of a problem.

Ghrist, who like Duchene found that academic integrity was a major concern in some of his classes last year, said that face-to-face learning had completely eliminated the problem.

“I haven’t had any problems this year,” said Ghrist. “All are straight and narrow.”

Mauger and Berry agreed that face-to-face exams this semester helped allay concerns about possible fraud.

“We are not aware of any personal midterm fraud this semester,” wrote Berry. “There was a lot of evidence of fraud in remote exams in the online semesters – for example, students submitted answers for a different version of a problem than what happened by Canvas.”

Given the students’ concerns, the professors are taking additional measures to reduce stress.

Duchene said she aimed to reduce student anxiety about exams by only granting an interim semester and allowing students to drop out of that grade if they did better in the graduation. However, she fears that these strategies and their implementation of weekly quizzes have not been enough.

“I know that stress levels have a huge impact on your performance and I want to avoid that as much as possible, so it’s still a work in progress,” said Duchene.

Although Ghrist was initially concerned about the seemingly heightened anxiety he was seeing among students, he shared with Flannery that the changes they made this semester with the interim semesters reduced the students’ stress.

“I’m happy to say that I think things have gone much better than I feared,” said Ghrist.


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