This week at my college, Middle Tennessee State University, everyone is going through the personal anguish and self-torment that is Finals Week. The stress is so common and dangerous that the school provides different services to help encourage students. One group hands out plastic bags filled with tea bags, tealight candles, bubble wrap, and Hershey’s Kisses as a relaxation method. The school brings in a therapy dog, named Canyon, and he stays in the James E Waker Library lobby. The school (should I be saying university?) evens sends out the occasional encouraging email.
Why does everyone stress to the point of sickness though?
It is an unfortunate byproduct of how the rigid system of semesteral education is not challenged by professors. Instead of the grading being a consistent pattern, instructors choose to make the final exam an unreoverable part of the class’ total grade. This isn’t totally the fault of the professors. The university (Yeah, that does sound better) pushes to have certain criteria for every class and some instrusctors don’t want to push back. I’ve had several courses that go against the norm. My Astronomy class did not have a cumulative final exam, but one that covered the untested material in the class. That exam was also worth the same amount of points as the others.
I am fortunate that my major and minor at MTSU are primarily entertainment centric. Sure, there are very testable materials (laws, studies, patterns, techniques, etc), but the main goal is for content creation. This means that the final exam is centered around a project that must be presented instead of the standard sit-down exam. Personally, I prefer public speaking and creative processes instead of multiple choice or written exams (I’ve never had trouble with written exams, but I am not a good test taker).
The same issue remains for these courses. In fact, it can cause even more stress. Some students are completely frozen with fear at the idea of creating a project that is original, presenting it in a clear and concise way, and showing in a limited period of time that they have collected sufficient cumulative knowledge to advance to a course at a higher level.
This creates a paradoxical relationship between the student and the learning. The course being taken should not only inform the student of new information, but cement that information to a point of confidence. Many students feel, at least at some point, that they have a firm grasp on the taught materials. When the final exam comes, the unbridled fear of failing overwhelms the students to a point of panic. This test-trigggered frenzy practically makes the student question everything they’ve been taught and worry that they will fail the class.
That is the stress for one class. The average MTSU student, every semester, takes five.
That is, on average, five final exams. Five separate episodes of stress that can make any student inoperable. The inabality to function on a basic level without a breakdown will impair the students test-taking and presentation ability. There’s no question about it. I’ve seen it happen to my friends. I’ve seen it happen to people I don’t spend any time caring about. It has happened to me.
Should these reasons create a drive on the universtiy’s part to change the system? From the inside, such a change would be an overhaul of the education system that may cause traditional students and professors to consider making another school their choice. That could potentially cost the school enough money to raise tuition. A raise in tuition could turn away even more students. The university may not see this as any sort of viable option.
From the outside, as a student, I would love for my school to create some sort of alternative option to final exams. This could put additional stress on professors though. The professors and instructors are the cogs in the machine that no one accounts for. The students expect the professors to give each one of them a certain level of attention (not entirely unreasonable, but everyone has their limits. Especially when instructors teach multiple courses at different levels) and have all assignments graded promptly. The university can change policy or require instructors to make a change to a curriculum that throws a wrench into everything.
The most versatile instructors, the ones that gain the favor of the university and the students, or the most successful ones. They allow students to alter their assignments to allow an easier environment for students to learn in. They ease the univeristy requirements in at a non-disruptive pace. They have clear office hours and can be easily reached by anyone even tangentially related to them professionally. These reasons create the sort of instructor that helps fight the dreaed of finals week. Our instructors are our last line of defense against the anxiety that invades every student at MTSU.
It is a thankless job, but where would we be without them?