I’m about a week from being finished with classes and about 1.5 weeks from being finished, more or less. Although I’m not terribly worried finals for myself, I know some people are stressing a lot. I already wrote a list of advice for test-taking that should be applicable for many final exams. But what about handling papers, projects, and just finals period?

  • Organize yourself! I have a list of what’s due when in my calendar and have already begun to decide when I’m working (or can work) on what. Make sure you have everything you need as well.
  • Sleep, eat, etc. No one works or thinks well if they are not taking care of themselves. If you feel like you’re pressed for time now, imagine how pressed you’ll be if you are sick. If you do become sick, talk to your advisor or a dean to see about getting extensions.
  • Speaking of eating, eat well. A little indulgence in junk is okay, but I find almost always feel better when I eat healthy foods.
  • If you’re writing papers (like I am), I’d make sure you have adequate breaks away from the computer. After awhile, my hands need to not type and my brain needs to stop working so hard.
  • If your final exam is in-class open everything, be it a writing or math/science exam, review your notes and have everything organized. Open notes, etc. on a test can be a valuable tool, but they can be detrimental if you have no idea what is where. I like using these little sticky-note strips; they’re a sliver of the size of a sticky note and you can write on them.
  • Along the same vein, even with an open notes/book/everything exam, study before you get there. These items are only tools and are pretty useless if you don’t know how to use them or understand the underlying concepts before hand.
  • Address your grade concerns now. While my advice has always been to address grade concerns as soon as they come up, your grade still has not been submitted. Talk to your professor(s) about ways to improve.
  • My last piece of advice is DO NOT CHEAT OR PLAGIARIZE. The consequences can be very steep for cheating. I know people have successfully cheated, but there are plenty of people who have not. Not even looking at the ethics, the risk is not worth it. If you wish to collaborate with a student on something and are unsure if it is cheating, ask your professor!

Best of luck to everyone who is in finals or is about to enter finals.



I consider a good length for an exam something that I can complete in 15 minutes, including making a rubric as as I go along. Sometimes, this model works well. Sometimes, this model fails massively. Sometimes it kind of works.

I’m a little surprised, though, that there is a big difference between my two physics classes. Granted, I haven’t graded their exams yet, but about 50% of my class is finished and has left. The other 50% is working steadily. Yesterday, some people have left by the 45 minute mark, but they also didn’t complete the entire exam. The ones that remained didn’t look like they were as confident as this bunch.

In all honesty, I think I do a better job with the class yesterday than today. Why? I’m not a morning person and my T-Th gets the first run of the material so that by my W-F, the kinks are worked out. For the W-F, I also have a relative idea of what they will likely have issues with. I wonder what it makes the discrepancy so blatant… Granted, I don’t have the best statistics (about 24 students between the two classes), but the difference is prominent.

From day 1, I announced that I do not allow iPods, Zunes, cell phones, etc. for use on the test. Just straight up calculators. Why? You can store notes, and I explicitly don’t allow notes. Besides, people do need to understand how to use calculators. They are fairly simple devices, but each has its own quirks.

Evidently, this is upsetting to some of my students who did not bring calculators to exam day (today.), especially since I don’t bring extra calculators to loan out.

How do other teachers handle it? Do they not realize or care that notes could possibly be stored on these devices?

Vacation isn’t simply vacation if you teach. I’ve spent the last week or so planning out my classes and will continue to do so next week. I have two weeks done of 2 classes and hope to get another week done of another class.

Since I start the semester with the students, I have a lot more freedom to choose what we’re doing. When I started last semester, since the semester was still in program, I was handed a syllabus, complete with homework problems. I did deviate from their syllabus, but for the most part, the class was handed to me. Materials have been given to me, but I still feel inclined to rework them. Besides just planning how to teach the topic at hand, I’m also figuring out what’s worth what, when I want homework due, etc.

Surprisingly, this has been difficult. I’m trying to make everything work out well for the students. For instance, I like exams to be given before a break, like spring break. Then it’s making sure I’m giving adequate practice. I’m really not 100% sure how much homework to give at times. What’s too much and what’s not enough?

I’m excited to see how well this all works out.

Part of what makes teaching, especially being new at it, is trying to figure out what makes the most sense to do. At this school, exams are heavily weighted (20% for 3 tests, 20% for a final), so it’s important that they do well. Everyone here has a system to help the students do better. One professor allows for infinite number of retakes. Another allows for students to make up their own problems and submit a correct solution.

Here are my strategies with the exam:

  • Give a practice exam in class. They receive a study guide about a week earlier to complete on their own; the study guide consists of problems that are more or less the same as the problems we do in class/homework. At that point, they may have seen those problems 3 times or more. The reason I give an in class practice exam is because most of my students don’t have great studying or test-taking skills. It forces them to look at what they don’t know; I’ve seen a few of them look at problems and think they understand what’s going on, because they have a solution right in front of them. The practice exam either builds up the confidence of those who have been working diligently or gives the student feedback immediately what they don’t know. In terms of test-taking, it is very different to take a test in a room with other people at an hour you’d rather be asleep than when you’re at home in conditions you set.
  • Exam corrections. I allow for exam corrections on the condition that they provide a good reason why they didn’t get the correct answer. Confusing numbers, adding incorrectly, calculator errors (we have a ton of those), etc. I think in the heat of the moment, they confuse weird little things. They cannot correct problems where they don’t show enough work or if they give a poor reason, like they didn’t study or they didn’t understand the problem. For the students who actually care, they can easily catch their mistakes. For those who do not, they don’t do much.

My system isn’t flawless. For some students, this class is very simple. For the rest, though, they struggle to get a passing grade on the exam even though the practice exam resembles the real exam. With exam corrections, I have to make tough judgments whether the student really understood the problem; I don’t want the exam corrections to turn into a system where the student blows off the exam and then receives full credit for essentially copying notes. A few of them struggle to understand why every problem is not eligible for corrections, but we’re working on that one.

I’m in the process of revamping my test taking policies for the students. I’ve decided that I’m not allowing them to redo most of the diagrams and debating about whether I should allow them to earn extra points for forgetting units. What is your take on what I should do?