In Depth

PA’s Peer Schools Have Similar Exam Weeks

Several of Phillips Academy’s peer schools have exam schedules similar to Andover’s Assessment Week. Deerfield’s exam week includes dining “speeds,” in which the dining hall reopens for a brief period after breakfast so students can take a study break to refuel. During the term, academic departments have specific testing schedules designed to prevent students from having two major assignments on one day. This is similar to Andover’s policy of allowing students to reschedule one major assignment if they have three in one day. Assistant Dean of Students Amie Creagh said, “I live with tenth-grade boys and they tell me that exam week is pretty mellow. From what I hear, students can sleep a little more…It’s laid-back and manageable.” Deerfield’s exam week is more fast-paced than Andover’s– all classes meet the Monday of exam week, classes with final exams review on Tuesday, and testing occurs Wednesday through Saturday. This past Fall, conflict exams were held on Thursday for students taking two classes in one department. Administrative Assistant to the Academic Dean Sheila Loveland said, “The week prior to exams is the most challenging. Students know what to expect during exams.” Unlike most of PA’s peer schools, St. Paul’s has final exams only at the end of spring term. Freshmen, sophomores and juniors must take these cumulative exams, while seniors are exempt, according to the Vice Rector. The science and math departments hold mid-year exams to give students the opportunity to prepare for the final exam. Classes are cancelled on these mid-year exam days. Science exams are after Thanksgiving break; math midterms are after Christmas. “The consensus is that while it is harder to have exams just at the end of the year in languages and humanities, it is great for math and science, because those are only for half the year,” said Emily Lackman, St. Paul’s ’10. “The science and math mid-terms aren’t that hard, because we’ve learned limited information so far. It’s a reality check, whereas the end of the year would be nearly impossible to recover information from the entire year. The stress is broken up during the year,” she continued. Vice Rector for Faculty Candice Dale said, “I would say everything piles up in the final two weeks. It’s very chaotic and a lot of work.” This examination schedule has been at the school for the last 25 years, and there are no plans to change the process. Vice Rector for Students Douglas Dickson said, “It’s fairly manageable.” “In a sense, the schedule can even be a little too relaxed because it takes away the sense of pressure and urgency that we become accustomed to working under during the regular school year,” said Steph O’Connell, St. Paul’s ’09. At Exeter, final exams are the last three days of classes before vacation. Like PA, assessments may consist of tests, papers, presentations, and in the case of the theater and art departments, a performance or a final project. According to Jane Cadwell, Dean of Academic Affairs, most of the tests at the end of the term are not cumulative, but like any other test that a student might have at the end of a unit of study. Exeter’s English department never has a final exam, but instead may assign papers due the final week. Cadwell said “I don’t know [whether or not students like the current assessment system]. We try to have some policies in place to protect students so that they don’t get overloaded with work on one particular day.” Students may reschedule exams to uphold Exeter’s daily limit of two exams. According to the school website, “Final exams are less universal at Exeter than at many other schools— faculty in a number of disciplines believe, instead, in continuous assessment (and continuous learning) throughout the term— some courses do culminate in exams of up to 75 minutes.” Loomis Chaffee has final assessment periods to conclude the first and third trimesters. Woody Hess, Associate Headmaster at Loomis, said “We meet in larger time blocks in the last couple days (of the winter trimester), so a teacher may use that time for an assessment if they wish to.” Assessments are always in the form of a test or paper. Before an exam period, Hess said, “There are two days of stipulated review, during which teachers are not allowed to introduce any new material.” This review takes place on a Monday and Tuesday, and the exam period begins Wednesday. Hess said, “It’s hard to tell whether [students] like [the exam schedule] or not. It’s not something we can easily change because of the way the requirements are set up.” The Groton School holds finals before Thanksgiving break. Students had two reading days to prepare for their exams; one before exam week began and the other, a Sunday, in the middle of the four days of exams.“A lot of kids take more than five credits,” said Kathy Leggat, Academic Dean at Groton. She said this means that many students two exams per day. “What some kids really like about the exam system we have here is that we have a really structured day,” continued Leggat. She added, “When we have exams, we don’t have many [athletic and extracurricular] commitments, so some kids actually appreciate that exam days are far less structured.” At Groton, finals are biannual. Students take exams in the fall and spring, but seniors only take exams to fulfill diploma requirements. The only cases in which a project or paper is assigned in lieu of an exam are those of one-term Senior electives. “The week before the final week is brutal,” said Leggat. The real issue arises at the end of Winter Term. Because there is no exam period, many teachers feel the need to test the students before vacation, but don’t have a designated method of doing so, according to Leggat. To prevent teachers from overloading their students with major tests, projects, and papers, Groton has adopted the “protected period” policy. Students are only allowed to have two major commitments per day.