BMC’s self-scheduled exam system needs change, says Registrar
By biconews On 22 Feb, 2000 At 05:00 AM | Categorized As Archives | With 0 Comments

By Lakshmi Gandhi

The Bryn Mawr’s registrar has announced that the College’s 30-year policy of giving self-scheduled exams is too much of a burden on her and her staff to continue in its present form. Only a vote of the faculty can end self-scheduled exams, since such a vote initiated them. Thus, the registrar herself cannot stop the current system, but her concerns are still being addressed very seriously by students and by the administration.

Registrar Julie Painter has asked Dean of the Undergraduate College Karen Tidmarsh and the Student Curriculum Committee to consider overhauling the entire process of self-scheduled

exams. The issue was recently discussed in a highly well-attended SGA meeting, and the Student Curriculum Committee is trying to originate a solution that would both appease the registrar and keep the current system intact.

In an interview, Painter discussed in detail the hassle and strenuous work that her office endures during exam periods in order to properly distribute and collect the exams. As Tidmarsh said, it is an “enormous responsibility to have an entire college depend on you” at the end of each semester. Painter has taken on this responsibility for 20 years with increasing frustration. Her opinion on the system did not change suddenly: rather, last December’s exam period was “the straw that broke the camel’s back,” Painter said. In spite of that, she wants students to be assured: “don’t fear that the exam system will be thrown out,” she says, because “I think [students] all are wed to it.”

This was evidenced by the high turnout at last week’s SGA meeting, at which worried students offered suggestions for improving the system. Painter did not attend the meeting, but Dean Tidmarsh and Melissa Hoegrer ’02, Head of the Student Curriculum Committee, attended and gave voice to the registrar’s concerns.

In her interview with the Bi-College News, Painter described the exam-taking conditions in Taylor last semester as “horrendous” and extremely overcrowded, particularly during the first two days of the exam period, due to the fact that many students wanted to take their tests as early as possible. There was also an increase in the number of self-scheduled exams, as the Student Curriculum Committee asked the faculty for more of them. The faculty responded affirmatively to this request.

The granted request then added to the burden. Tidmarsh said that students wanted the faculty to view self-scheduled exams as “the norm,” but that the resulting increase in self-scheduled exams only made the exam period more difficult for the registrar.

Only one-quarter of all classes have self-scheduled exams. The number of scheduled exams is increasing because professors with large classes often want to grade all of the exams at once.

Tidmarsh and Painter do not think the increasing number of scheduled exams reflects faculty distrust of students. Take-home exams and papers are also popular alternatives to self-scheduled exams. Tidmarsh said that this is a “complicated structure” that doesn’t fit the current exam-period schedule. Last semester, students were not permitted to take exams during the two-day reading period so that they would have more time to study. “Instead,” Tidmarsh said, “they used this time to start papers.” “Most students are not finding it helpful,” Tidmarsh said.

The current end-of-semester schedule is “inconsistent with the way professors are assigning final projects,” she added.

The fact that there was only one open-book test room was also a problem because there could not possibly have been enough space for everyone. Open-book exams are always more unmanageable because of the nature of the exam, said Painter. However, not one person complained about the conditions, and that could mean students took their exams outside of Taylor, perhaps in their rooms, and just brought them back, Painter said, She stressed that there is no proof that this occurred - only that it was possible.

During exam period the registrar and her staff work from 7:00 in the morning until very late at night. As there is no extra help provided for setting up for exams, Painter and her staff must carry 15 boxes of tests to Thomas from the third floor of Taylor, and then back again when the exam is over. During night exams there are fewer people to perform such tasks because the staff lives far away and Painter, who lives close to campus, feels it unfair to ask them to drive home an extra hour later just to move boxes.

Hoegler said that her committee was working with Tidmarsh and the Registrar’s Office to get more help for this semester’s exams and then try to work out a permanent solution.

Students at the Feb. 1 meeting were surprised at the registrar’s dissatisfaction, and were quick to offer possible solutions. Some suggested hiring a graduate student or temp to help the registrar during exam period, increasing student involvement in proctoring, and having faculty take more responsibility for clerical duties relating to exams.

The most common comment at the meeting was the call for more student involvement. “I think the [registrar's] underestimation of the student community is … slightly ridiculous, even insulting.” said Nora Landon ’01. Landon says that students run Customs and SGA well, and they could certainly be counted on to help with exams if they were asked. Dean Tidmarsh said that although more student involvement in proctoring might be needed, it is not the job of the students to run their own exams, especially at a time of the year when they are already quite busy.

Ideally, during this semester’s exam period, the conditions will be much better than they were in December, but it depends. More rooms to in which to take the exams are needed, but in order to have those, there needs to be more proctors. “It has always been a problem getting people to proctor and the same few people usually proctor every year,” said Painter. To compound the problem, there are those who sign up to be proctors and then do not show up, or show up late, which delays exams for everyone. “The only quality that a proctor really must have is punctuality,” said Painter, but she suggested that the proctors should be a bit older than the undergraduales, with a “certain amount of authority in their voice.”

Hoegler suggested that proctoring at least once during their BMC career should be a graduation for students so that technically, there would never be a shortage of proctors. A resolution making this a requirement will appear at Plenary. “Students need to reaffirm their commitment” to the testing system by proctoring, she said: “It is important to remember that you only get what you give.”

Painter doubts that this approach would work. “The reason it is so hard to find proctors,” she says, “is that it is an extremely stressful and busy time of year.” “It would be better if proctors were hired,” she said, suggesting that graduate students might be willing to help.

Painter said that her personal opinion of self-scheduled exams was that they are not necessary. She went to Bryn Mawr before there were self-scheduled exams, and says she’s seen the College work without them. However, she admits the College was smaller then, and that things have changed. And with student opinions of the system what they are, Painter said, she won’t stop administering self-scheduled exams.

Tidmarsh is also an alumna: she was here just as self-scheduled exams were being instituted. “I feel very personally what some of the benefits are,” she said. “I think self-scheduled exams have become important to how students think of themselves in relation to the faculty and to the Honor Code.”

Yet, Tidmarsh said that even as students grow more attached to the idea of self-scheduled exams, they grow more disconnected from the actual process. with only a quarter of classes having the exams and fewer students proctoring every year. Tidmarsh said that this is an opportunity for the College to “examine just how important self-scheduled exams are to us.”

With reporting by Christine McCluskey

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