The week beforefinals is a notoriously arduous time for students, but the stress that comes with… The week beforefinals is a notoriously arduous time for students, but the stress that comes with exam week does not start and stop when they take a test: the faculty and administrators who are responsible for the scheduling and grading of final exams experience difficulties of their own.
The University Office of the Registrar is responsible for scheduling all finals for non-CGS undergraduate classes, excluding those for Saturday, evening and graduate classes.
Each semester the Registrar’s office puts together a grid with 30 time slots available for examinations, said Patti Mathay, assistant university registrar. There are five exam blocks each day, and six days that exams are administered.
Mathay said in an e-mail, “Generally there is one person who ‘creates’ the grid but others may be involved in reviewing it before it is finalized.”
“Each term the blocks of finals are rotated around the grid so that days and times of the finals vary,” she said. “For example, classes that are scheduled for finals at 4:00 p.m. on Saturday might be moved to one of the time slots on Monday in a future term.”
The final exam grid, which details when all hourly and departmental finals are scheduled, is available to students through their my.pitt.edu portal.
Scott Morgenstern, associate professor of political science, said that professors find out the exam schedule the same way students do.s
“Yes, I have to look it up online,” he said in an e-mail.
Senior economics major Jonathan Booth is scheduled for four finals, three of which are on Saturday.
“I don’t know why we even have Saturday finals in the first place,” Booth said. “Luckily one of my teachers was sympathetic and told me I could take hers at another time.”
Mathay explained the unpopular time slot.
“We have Saturday exams to provide an adequate number of exam periods for all of the undergraduate classes offered each term,” she wrote.
The Registrar’s office does not have a system for minimizing multiple finals on one day for students like Booth.
This is because of the large number of students who take exams and the variation in the way students schedule classes, Mathay said.
It would be “virtually impossible to consider all the possible permutations of schedules when building the exam schedule,” she added.
The office does look at the number of classes scheduled at various hours of the day to avoid scheduling departmental finals at the same time as the most popular class hours.
“The process is more tedious than it is difficult,” she said.
Students like Booth can take solace in the approved Final Exam Conflict Accommodation Guideline, which is issued each term.
For the fall 2010 term, the guideline states that students with more then two finals on one day have a few options to lighten the load.
Students can take all final examinations as they are scheduled, consult their instructors to determine if a make-up exam can be scheduled, and lastly, “if neither is possible, students are entitled to request an alternative examination time for the exam”
Requesting an alternative time must be done by the end of the monitored withdrawal period, which passed in October. Other rules stated in the guideline say that students can only request to move the middle examination, unless that is a departmental final.
Morgenstern said he has had to move students’ final examinations around because of conflicts before.
Once students actually take an exam, their professors have a number of options to help turn the grades around quickly.
If professors use Scantron sheets, they can arrange to have the Office of Measurement and Evaluation of Teaching scan and score those parts of the exam.
While OMET is busy throughout the term grading evaluation-of-teaching surveys and other tests, “the flurry of activity is amped up during the last two weeks of each fall and spring term,” said Nancy Reilly, the office’s director.
Reilly said in an e-mail that last spring the office had 546 exam scanning jobs during the last two weeks of the semester. Reilly said that there had been 1,217 exam scanning jobs for this term as of Thursday.
Professors who use written examinations must grade all exams alone or with the help of teaching assistants. Morgenstern said he did not use OMET.
“I don’t think that [Scantrons] provide a useful way for students to display their understanding of the issues we discuss in class,” he said.
Morgenstern said he often splits the work with a teaching assistant, but said on top of the exams to grade he normally also has papers to grade and law school recommendations to write.
“It’s absolutely a stressful time,” he added. “If I have two classes, that would be 100 exams to grade in just a few days.”
“If each exam takes 15 minutes, that would be 40 hours!”