November 28, 2020
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Students weigh in on ‘new normal’ of college exams, preparing for finals

By McKenzie Collins and Chloe Peterson
Staff Writer and Correspondent

In response to a virtual semester, the College has had to adjust educational policies to better fit the new terrain. One of these changes has included shifting exam policies in order to accommodate the at-home testing environment. Since most students are taking exams from their bedrooms, the College revised the exam policies to help maintain academic integrity. 

In giving professors the option to implement the use of lockdown browsers, shifting to accommodate open-note testing and asking students to take exams while on Zoom, the College community has experienced drastic change.

The College has adjusted exam parameters to meet the new standards of learning in a remote environment (Envato Elements).

“I feel like there’s just a lot to unpack when it comes to online school in general. I think it’s harder to take exams online, especially when you’re at home,” said Julia De Jesus, a sophomore psychology major. “I’m literally downstairs and my sister is doing gym via Zoom in the living room. It’s weird, you know?”

The general consensus for online exams is that they are not necessarily worse, but students are held to a different set of expectations. Eliana Birnbaum, a freshman with an undecided major, feels that online exams take much longer than their written alternatives would. With the added aspect of staring at a screen for an extended period of time, there are different obstacles to manage when considering an online exam. While professors have adequately prepared their students for this new academic experience, there are unknown factors that would not be relevant in a classroom environment.

“For a few of my classes it was always better to study in a group. But because we are online and it’s hard to coordinate with other students, and being able to learn online is already difficult, I guess it’s different,” said Alisha Srivastava, a junior biology major. “I used to take a lot of notes by hand, but now that everything’s online, I feel like I just study by looking at the notes that they (the professors) send us.”

The students interviewed all indicated that they had not read the official email on student exam policies, mostly because their professors elected to handle testing in their own way. While some students explained that their exams allowed for open notes, others described their professors’ decision to monitor them via Zoom.

De Jesus feels, however, that many of these decisions privilege people who have stable internet connection, a quiet place to focus or the ability to focus on a screen for long periods of time. She notes that for many, this has been a large undertaking to adjust to in such a short amount of time.

A part of the new exam policy at the College is the implementation of lockdown browsers. If a professor chooses, students can download a browser which ensures that the student does not stray from the Canvas website while taking an exam. The browser prevents students from opening any other websites, applications or files on their computer until the exam is completed. 

While some professors have chosen to use the extension to dissuade cheating, some students have found it distrusting and more likely to cause cheating due to restrictions. 

“I’d like to be given the independence and the trust that I’m going to take the exam the way you’re asking me to,” said Shrish Jawadiwar, a senior with a double major in political science and music. “At the collegiate level, we’re all adults and I would like to be treated as such.”

These adjustments have become a new form of pressure for some students. With the new exam policies, professors will often require students to sit in a synchronized Zoom meeting as they take their exams to ensure that everyone maintains academic integrity and has the option to ask questions in real time.

“It also is a little uncomfortable, because you don’t want the professor to see your background and judge you if you have something weird in the background and you’re just trying to take your test,” Srivastava said.

The nerves that come from being in a Zoom meeting while taking an exam may cause the student’s performance to decrease, Birnbaum said.

“I think there’s a spectrum: being in person is the most ideal because you know what to expect,” Jawadiwar said. “B tier is the exam that I have, which is the online open book, and then F tier is where you can’t use anything and they’re monitoring you with a camera. Big brother is always watching you.”

Not only does being online have a great influence on a student’s abilities, but it is important to acknowledge how a student’s year could have an effect as well. When speaking to upperclassmen students, they both made similar statements: they could not tell if online exams were easier or if they had become more acquainted to the workload based on their experience. They acknowledge the importance of time management due to timed exams and encourage fellow students to ask their professors for help during office hours.

“I’ve taken tests where they film me, where they track my eyes, where they track my voice,” De Jesus said. “That’s just not an ideal situation for everyone, and while these regulations are something that we don’t want to abide by, we have to, because it makes up for what we could do in person. These changes are understandable but also a hassle.” 

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