November 30, 2004

Finalizing reading period

Throughout this week, and at this time in quarters past, professors have circumvented the official final examination schedule by giving final exams during Reading Period. Perhaps the instructor wants to go on vacation early with his family, or thinks he's aiding his students by finishing the course a week early. Whatever the intentions, early exams pose a heavy burden for students returning from Thanksgiving; early exams cheat students not only of time to review, but also out of the classes for which they pay.

On Monday, Physical Chemistry students took "midterm" exams. Today, some computer science students take their final exams. It's irrational to expect students to prepare fully for an exam while satisfying the demands of the regular courses. Besides setting students up to perform less than optimally, early exams are unfair: The $10,041 tuition fee charged per quarter promises classes for nine full weeks and the first three days of tenth week. Shaving classes from tenth week—or distracting students' attention by forcing them to take a final early—cheats each of expensive and precious class time.

But more important than the dollars lost, is the resoundingly negative message that early exams send: that opportunities to learn are respected less than the extra flexibility of an early exam. Some elite institutions of higher learning devote an entire week to a reading period, allowing students the full time to review materials, absorb concepts and meet with instructors to master the concepts they have struggled with for the term. At a college renowned for its rigor, it is simply unrealistic to imagine that students would be able to study and review for exams while at the same time keeping current in other classes. After all, isn't reading period for reading and finals week for finals?