Maybe Not The End of the World As We Know It? Ponderings and Perhapses Regarding The New and Improved Exam Schedule

Rachel Stone Co-Editor-in-Chief This time last year would have marked the third most crucial weekend in pre-exam preparation: the underappreciated weekend of exam material organization and psychological justification, the weekend that sets the perpetually anxious apart from the rest of the well-adjusted student body. I wouldn’t have been able to spend my weekend elbowing my way through hordes of lemming-like Christmas shoppers and watching Revenge with my little sister. This time last year, however, I would have at least begun calculating exactly how low I could score on an exam to keep my current grade, and at most, would have begun agonizing over the looming gauntlet of proctored angst also known as Exam Week, Winter Edition. It isn’t just the subtle seduction of early-onset senioritis that’s keeping the anxiety at bay this year, but rather the fact that exam week isn’t what it was last year. Thanks to the efforts of department chairs, faculty, and upper school director Mr. Graf, exams this end-of-semester are not mandatory, but rather encouraged to be administered when the class has reached a “stopping point” and if a traditional exam is the only logical method of testing comprehension. Shuffling through the shopping bags and closing my Netflix tabs, I’m feeling a bit like a Powerball winner, relieved that some of the agonizing pre-lottery anticipation has been lifted, but ambivalent about what exactly these numbers mean. As a first-semester senior taking three electives and only one strict-curriculum AP course, my new-and-improved finals schedule doesn’t contain any traditional exams, but rather a Trivial Pursuit game, a research presentation, an elaborate staging of a scene of The Tempest, a collection of commentaries on a book of poetry, a quiz, and a simulation. While the typical pre-exam stress has definitely been diminished, I’m not exactly sure at what cost. The administration has seen the student body obsess over exams, and, in the recent explosion of college-centric stress that has culminated in the idea that every single grade matters because The Almighty Institutes of Higher Education will see them, exams have seemed to become terribly consequential. In an effort to decrease the earth-shattering importance of exams, they have been made optional. Yet, this kindness and cognizance doesn’t expand too far beyond the Latin community. The class of 2013 will be graduating to college next year, where two sets of midterms and final exams count for significantly more, and where the population comprises of students who have had the practice of at least four years worth of biannual exams. I can’t help but wonder if the benefit of decreased stress in the short term is actually detrimental, giving exams more of an importance since we’d only have four times in four years to practice the form of comprehensive studying that only real, traditional exams can provide. I also can’t help but wonder how students in the current freshman class will fare, especially those who have matriculated from Latin Middle School, where finals were abolished the year before the current senior class joined the seventh grade. I remember taking my first final Freshman year; every other grade besides mine had had already had at least one year of practice, and as a result of that, my grade was left to anticipate exams as a much bigger deal than they actually were—it just took us another set of exams to figure that out. Regardless of the implications of this decision, this new approach to final exams shows exactly to what lengths the Latin commitment to the student body extends; that the entire structure of something so largely unchallenged could be so substantially revamped is a testament to its compassion. However, real life doesn’t divorce itself from implications. Simply put, the new optional structure won’t give upper school students sufficient practice with final exams. But the conclusion this statement creates, that practice with final exams is important, is inherently flawed. Perhaps this is the reason the exam reform conclusion is two-sided; there is no way to create a solution to a problem without fixing the problem from the root. We can only have a “perfect” answer to final exam stress by addressing the phenomena of pre-college stress, and there’s only so much Latin can do to combat it.  But if 2012 is indeed the end of the world, and future consequences are rendered utterly unimportant, this finals solution is downright utopian.]]>