As the end of the fall term approaches, students are gearing up for their final assessments. This year, Andover’s finals week schedule will return to its structure prior to Covid-19. Students will have optional conferences for each of their classes on Monday. For the following four days, students will have one two-hour block allotted to each class for final examination, although the full two hours is often not used.
Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, last year’s Andover students did not have an official finals week, each class meeting the same number of times as a regular week. In returning to the old structure, Carl Sangree, Instructor in Chemistry, found that the finals schedule for a normal year promotes greater academic success and builds better test-taking skills in students. Last year, Sangree’s students took half of their exam as a take home test and half synchronously via Zoom. This year, Sangree’s exam will return to a fully in-person exam.
“I don’t think that [open-note test taking] is a sustainable policy for them as they go on to more advanced courses and go to college. I think it’s important to know how to take an assessment without the help of outside resources. And so I think making those allowances last year was probably mostly done as a reflection of the reality of Covid-19. You can’t control the home test taking environment the way you can control a classroom test taking environment,” said Sangree.
As opposed to STEM finals, Elly Nyamwaya, Instructor in English, voiced that English finals last year and this year are comparatively not much different. The amount of material covered in his class was the same. Therefore, Nyamwaya explained that his students are responsible for writing an individual final essay for their final, following the same expectations which he had last year for his students.
Leon Calleja, Chair in English, expressed appreciation for the return to the old finals week schedule. Calleja acknowledged that this year’s finals schedule allows teachers to better cover their course material over a longer period of time.
“I think teachers are being a little bit more deliberate about how to spread out their final assessments [since Covid-19] so it doesn’t all hinge on the last day. I think we’ve done it in the past anyways but now we’re more intentionally doing it, so that things are spread out over the couple weeks…. It’s definitely better [returning to the old schedule],” said Calleja.
Aleena Kibria ’23 recognized the benefits of in-person tests and this year’s finals schedule as a student at Andover. Kibria said that the optional conference day embedded into this year’s finals schedule will help her to better prepare for her finals. She plans to use the Monday conference schedule to ask final clarifying questions in her classes.
“Last year, I was online the entire year, so it was absolutely horrendous. In terms of workload, I think it’s nicer being on campus because you feel more prepared for those assignments. Especially since it’s easier to work with other students on all of those assignments, as opposed to being online… The conference day is actually really good, especially for humanities classes. For last minute questions about math, or like STEM courses, but humanities specifically. To go into those classes and ask: is this what you want out of the essay?” said Kibria.
On the other hand, Patrick Farrell, Instructor in Math, commented on how Covid-19 changed his perspective on final exams. Farrell expressed that Covid-19 was an opportunity for Andover to shift away from typical exam practices and reevaluate testing styles.
“Teaching during [the early Covid-19 pandemic] forced faculty to repeatedly ask the question ‘why?’ A comprehensive final exam places great value on retaining a large amount of information. But having less teaching time during [Covid-19] helped faculty realize that teaching students to reason mathematically was a far greater aim. A person who can reason mathematically can learn information, but a person who retains a large amount of mathematics may find it challenging to think deeply or creatively about mathematics. Hence, it makes more sense to move away from the traditional final exam,” said Farrell.
This year, Farrell plans to give students a major individual assessment and a minor group problem solving assessment rather than a cumulative traditional test. Farrell hopes that this method will help his students to focus on applying and retaining the material they learned in class.
Farrell said, “When we gave comprehensive finals, we used to spend an entire week of class reviewing material to prepare students for the exam. Why not instead teach more mathematics and focus on mathematical reasoning over storing large amounts of information in our brains (information that is readily accessible via the internet to those who can read, write and speak mathematics).”