Thursday, 30 June 2016

Finals & Exam Week

          Exams usually give everyone a bit of anxiety. They are a test of memorization, skill, and often reflect a large portion of our grade. However, the UK school system takes this to a whole new level. While Harvey Mudd usually relies on a midterm, a final and homework assignments or papers, Queen Mary classes relied solely on exams, papers and labs. One of my tech classes had a final that counted for 70% of my overall grade, which I personally don't agree with. I don't see how one exam can reflect your learning and understanding to any significant level, especially if it relies heavily on memorization. Google is such a widely used resource that large levels of memorization aren't useful anymore, rather understanding concepts and ideas is better. Also, in general exams that reflect a large portion of our grade tend to make us all very nervous and we end up being more likely to forget something.
          That being said, Harvey Mudd does a great job of using the Honor Code to allow us to have take-home exams so that we can be in the comfort of our own room or open-book exams for classes where it's either impossible or just unrealistic to memorize the information for the class. I was entirely used to this kind of environment, so I was completely unprepared for exams at Queen Mary. 
          Both of my exams were to take place in a large exam room (obviously at different times) where multiple different exams were being administered. I was given the date of my exam in April and was assigned a seat number. The class websites made practice exams available and I spent several days studying with my fellow HMC students and other study abroad students. I arrived to the exam room and was immediately struck by all the posters that stated that if any academic material was found in the building with my name on it, I would face serious consequences regarding my exam. I was astounded, what if I was reviewing before the exam and recycled the sheet when I entered the building? It seemed very severe, but I thought that maybe they were being serious because there were so many more students than Harvey Mudd and there was no Honor Code. However, when we entered the exam room, we entered a whole other kind of environment. We were instructed to leave our bags and jackets at the front of the class and there was a moderator at the front of the room (that comfortably sat over 300 spaced chairs and desks) who was instructing via a microphone that we were now under official exam conditions and that we were not allowed to speak. At one point, the moderator spotted some people talking and started yelling, even though they had just entered the room and hadn't heard his instructions. When we were seated, we were asked to rip any labels off of our water bottles and throw them away then place the water bottle under our desk. At this point, I was starting to wonder how severe these exam conditions were going to get...Then we were asked to take everything out of our pockets and place them in the plastic baggie on our desk, seal it, and place it under our chair. We were also told to take off the cover to our calculators and place them in the baggie as well. There were also projections of clocks everywhere to add to our already high anxiety. During all this, the moderator had an attitude I can only describe as aggressive, he acted as if we had already all been caught cheating and had two strikes against us. It made for a very nerve-wracking experience that left me feeling as if I would get kicked out for leaving tissues on the desk. Assistants even walked around during the exams and checked the back of our calculators! I had never felt so mistrusted. 
          In the end, while I felt that I had done well on my exams, I can't wait to go back to the Mudd environment. The College gives us such trust and respect that I now appreciate so much more knowing the rarity of it. Though my experience most likely doesn't characterize all exam conditions abroad in the UK or even London, I hope that it does at least show the amount of freedom HMC gives us during exams. 

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