Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Pre-Holiday Test Fest

Would you give a quiz or test the day before a long (> 3 day) holiday break? For example, would you give a quiz/test the day before the Thanksgiving break?

Some schools in the US are not in session this week at all, but I think most are in session either Monday-Tuesday or Monday-Tuesday-Wednesday.

Is there a special place in hell reserved for professors who give an exam the day before Thanksgiving break and other long mid-term breaks in the academic schedule, or is this a clever way for an instructor to ensure attendance and/or to see who is serious about a course? Or is the day before Thanksgiving break (for example) just another day in the schedule and, if makes sense to have a quiz that day, so be it?

I will reveal my philosophy on this, at the risk of appearing nice: I never give a quiz the day before Thanksgiving break. Or Spring Break.

My no-quiz-before-breaks philosophy derives in part from my being ever-so-slightly nice on special occasions, but there is also a self-interested practical issue involved. I avoid giving make-up exams if at all possible, and many students have quite valid reasons for needing to miss the day-before-Thanksgiving-break class; e.g. long-distance travel to be with an ailing grandparent or to meet a new niece. These students would need make-up exams. I don't have to give them make-up exams, but I would, and then I would spend my week preparing extra exams and giving these exams and I don't really have time for that.

It is sad that so many students miss the awesome educational experience that is my day-before-vacation class, but it's also kind of nice to teach a smaller class, even if just for a day. There is a more relaxed, festive, and casual atmosphere than usual, and more students ask questions than usual (perhaps to distract me from my lecture, but that's OK). And some students who have never before spoken in class will ask a question. This is great. And sometimes I end class a bit early.

I like that the last class before a break has a relaxed and friendly atmosphere, not an anxious test-taking one. And then I don't have to grade over the break either.

35 comments:

JaneB said...

Do you have tests just after the break, too? I think it's actually meaner to have a test/essay due just after the break, as for the conscientious student they spend the 'break' either studying or feeling guilty for not studying...

Anonymous said...

Sorry, I cannot share your sympathy.
Don't american students have too many holidays?
In Russia we used to have long semesters without any kinds of breaks.
2 week winter break and 4 week summer break was all what I had for 5 years in engineering MS program.
Once I had an extremely important test on December 31st, and another one on January 2nd.

Ann said...

When I was an undergrad, I would have VASTLY preferred a test/quiz the day before break to one the day after. It frees you up and gives you one less course to worry about while you're traveling and eating vast quantities. Even though my classmates grumbled, they grumbled at every test and every quiz, and my friends were still able to appreciate "walking away" from that course for a few days.

quietandsmalladventures said...

i have to say, as a student, i appreciate not having an exam the day before a break. the caveat, is that i don't want it the first day back either; i end up spending my break studying and not getting needed time off or thinking about studying and thus not getting a needed break.

thus far, most of my profs (undergrad and grad), have avoided exams prior to a holiday for the very simple reason that they don't want to grade over a break either :)

Ambivalent Academic said...

Good for you! I long ago decided that there is a special place in hell for people who give exams on the Wednesday before Turkey day...these same people were often the same who were spiteful enough to NOT offer a makeup exam. For a college student far from home, it made it very expensive to go home to see the family...staying on campus was not an option either as they shut down the dorm cafeterias. My take on this is that profs who did this were like Thanksgiving grinches.

As is my grad program director, who wanted to meet to review my status report from committee meeting ON WEDNESDAY EVENING AT 6PM! I will be driving through another state at that time...no worries he says, how about Saturday evening at 9PM?

How about I just leave the forms with your assistant, you can sign them at your leisure, I will turn them in when you're done and we'll both go off and enjoy our holidays you lunatic? I swear, some people have NO respect for other people's time, families, etc.

Glad you're not one of them.

Anonymous said...

I agree that giving an exam that day is guaranteed to cause more pain for all concerned than it is worth. I have softened over time in this regard, now accepting without protest these sorts of exceptions. I also have to factor in certain basketball gam, which are even more important than federal holidays. However, I do give a lecture on the day before the break and I do make sure this material is on the final exam--canceling class is not the right option in my book.

My pet peeve is the number of students that never return to class AFTER Thanksgiving, even in year's where the academic schedule had 1.5 weeks of additional class time. In my larger class, attendance drops below 50% after the break every year.

Ah well.

Mark P

sarcozona said...

Now I wish you were one of my professors. I have two exams today and in my last class of the day, my professor will be going over information that isn't in the book - and he won't be giving out handouts on the material either. I'm not going home for Thanksgiving this year, so I'm ok - but many students are going to have to drive very late to get home on icy roads.

Ewan said...

I wish that I *had* scheduled a test for yesterday.

Arrived for my 8 a.m. class - no students there. OK. Time for class comes - no students there. Blood pressure rising. 10 min later, give up and leave.

*Zero* students. As I'm walking out of the building, my one (delightful, enthusiastic) mature student, who is always there 10 min early, is arriving - but not a sign of any of the others.

Am I pissed? Oh, yeah. I'm contemplating having their entire final on that class; and putting out a fake outline for the content, too..

Anonymous said...

I don't get it. Is it really that hard for students to simply schedule their flight for AFTER the last scheduled class period before a break??? Students know at least 6 months in advance (and usually more) what the academic calendar looks like for a given semester. If people are making plane reservations the week before they leave, then might have to suffer some consequences.

The point about makeup exams is an interesting one... though I'd say for most large courses (>100 people) you'll probably have at least 1 student who misses the exam for some reason regardless of when it is held - therefore it wouldn't make much difference.

CookingWithSolvents said...

I'm 100% with you on avoiding writing make up exams and grading over holidays.

Anonymous said...

I think the Wednesday before Thanksgiving is bad but we have the whole week off and I did give an exam last Friday without feeling bad. I think it's better to get it taken care of so students do not have it hanging over their head over the break.

In one of my other classes I'm giving an exam the week after break (not on Monday!) and I actually wish I hadn't put it off since I don't think they will be back in the swing of things after the break and their scores may suffer accordingly.

Anonymous said...

Tip: schedule make up tests a week before the actual exam. As soon as this policy is announced in class the number of people who claim to have a conflict goes down by a factor of ten. Interestingly enough, students with real conflicts don't mind writing the test that early. They are just happy to have their conflict resolved.

Neuropharma said...

Being a student, I certainly do agree with those who said that they prefer to take the test the holiday break. I even don't mind taking it one day before. Because we are going to have the test sooner or later, so let's have it before the holiday so that we can enjoy it. Otherwise we'll be spending the holiday studying while most other people are celebratiing and having fun. And yes, some of my undergrad professors (and even school teachers) did use exams to ensure attendance!

EthidiumBromide said...

I agree that I would also prefer to have an exam before break as opposed to after... nothing ruins a break like having to study!

I also think some universities need to better plan holiday schedules around the type of students that attend. I, personally, see no reason why a student would need to miss the Tuesday before Thanksgiving more than any other day (seriously? a 6 day vacation is a necessity?) but at my undergrad, a national private university, we did not have Wednesday off. I always went to my Wednesday classes because I lived a few hours away and was able to take the train home on Wednesday evenings so it was practical, but many of my friends who lived across the country did not find it economically worthwhile to shell out lots of $$ to fly home for 3.5 days, and so they skipped on Wednesday. If a school caters to a national audience, rather than regional, I think it is the school's responsibility to consider this when planning the calendar.

plam said...

Ambivalent Academic: My thesis advisor suggested holding my thesis defence on December 25. We have very small committees at the Institute, so it might have actually been possible. But I convinced him that December 18 was a much better date.

Comrade PhysioProf said...

As is my grad program director, who wanted to meet to review my status report from committee meeting ON WEDNESDAY EVENING AT 6PM! I will be driving through another state at that time...no worries he says, how about Saturday evening at 9PM?

I make it a policy to never, ever schedule any professional meeting outside of normal work hours. I always refuse to attend any such meetings that other people attempt to schedule, making it clear that my reason for refusing to attend is not that I "can't make it", but that it is inappropriate to schedule essential professional meetings outside normal work hours.

I also make it very clear to people that I do not schedule non-emergency appointments on short notice. Like if I get an e-mail from one of my colleagues: "Hi. I would like to meet to discuss next semester's course you have agreed to teach. Are you available tomorrow?"

Response: "I only schedule routine meetings like this with two weeks' lead time. Please propose some dates/times starting two weeks from now, and I'll let you know which ones I am available."

coturnix said...

I teach an 8-week course. We cannot afford to worry about holidays. Thus, a final paper is due next Tuesday when they will also have their final exam. Yup, you can travel, but you also have to study - there is nothing I can do about it.

SeaSaltBlues said...

I would not give a quiz before a break, but instead set it for the first day after the break. This is actually common at my place.

Anonymous said...

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Greg said...

I generally don't either. But I do give a unique fun and informative lecture about Turkey dinner and biomolecules on the day before Thanksgiving. I usually ask something on those topics as a bonus question on the next exam so I reward the students who come to class.

Dr. Lisa said...

I don't give exams the day before or the day after a long break. I don't worry about three-day weekends. I also cancel night-time labs (but not lectures) the day before long breaks.

In response to "Anonymous": I've found that it is common for students' parents to make their airline reservations. The parents don't care about final exam dates, much less midterm exams. I've even had students in tearful phone conversations with parents who were yelling at them about cheapest fares and "if I'm paying, you travel when I say so".

nivi said...

Over here we have a week break in the middle of the semester. During my undergrad all the tests and assignments are due immediately after this break - which means all you can do during the break is to finish up your assignments and study for the tests so the break is completely wasted. Sure it might help those who have not opened their books at all as in give them some time to study but for the rest of us it was very irritating to have a pseudo break. I would have far preferred to have had the tests before the break.

msomustek said...

I guess there's a special room reserved for me in hell. I gave two exams - one on Mon. and one on Tues. BUT... I did offer to test them last week, and they selected Monday over Friday.

I don't have much sympathy for students who intentionally schedule holiday travel on class days. On the other hand, I'm not looking forward to all of the grading I have to do over my holiday.

Tina said...

Before break... yes. They can relax after. After break... no, not if I can avoid it. Vacation is when vacation is... not a day or two before. They know the schedule well in advance. (The one exception being...every place I've been as a student or professor gave the Wednesday before Thanksgiving off. Since I consider that day part of the holiday, I wouldn't test on Wednesday.)

Ann said...

I think it's a very good point that there are different considerations to make at different schools. My undergrad school was in one of those places that's nationally famous for incredibly nasty weather, and on top of that the dorms closed completely for every single holiday and reopened Sunday afternoon. So on the one hand, you're being kicked out of the home you're paying for and you're living in a place where it can be very dangerous to drive at that time of year (and the roads can be closed), but on the other hand, classes are on till the last minute.

Lauren said...

My school recently switched from the usual Thurs-Friday break for Turkey day to giving us the whole week off. I feel like this encouraged professors to give more tests on the last day of class since they might have given them that Friday anyway but no there's no Monday or Tuesday after. As such, I had two exams the day before Thanksgiving break and while that sucked, it is nice to have the whole week without having to think about either class.

EliRabett said...

One of the issues is the cost of airfare. The prices escalate Tuesday, Wednesday and Monday after which explains at least some of this behavior.

The same thing happens around Christmas. About 1 wk before airfares get huge which is why students often beg for an early final. For some of them it is the choice between going home or not for the breaks.

Dr M said...

I am lowly postdoc and really don't have to care about these issues (at least for some time yet), but my general philosophy is, and has always been, not to schedule anything really important on the day before a major holiday if I can avoid it. Translating to American conditions (I'm not American and I don't live in the US), I would avoid scheduling anything on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. Thursday is the acutal holiday, which means that that's when people will want to spend time with their family (or however they celebrate said holiday). This means that for anyone having to travel a long distance, Wednesday is travel day.

As for longer breaks, unless they start with a major holiday, any time including the last day is fair game. Students can travel on the first day of the break. In this case, I would try harder not to schedule an exam immediately after the break, for the exact reason other people have already stated.

I also like Comrade PhysioProf's general principle, but disagree with the degree of rigidity I perceive reading his/her comment. If all involved agree to meet at midnight, that's fine with me, but don't ever expect me to schedule a non-emergency meeting outside office hours, and I will never expect anyone to agree to meeting outside office hours. In the same spirit, don't expect me to be available for a meeting on short notice, but if it happens to fit my plans to meet tomorrow, why not?

Thomas Joseph said...

All this talk of "They should know the schedule." Yada, yada, yada. The holiday season is stressful enough ... scheduling an exam the day before Thanksgiving is total crappola. The kids are thinking about everything BUT the exam. Worried about the weather, travel plans, etc. and then they get an exam dumped on them by a teacher who is no doubt staying put for the holidays.

Want to schedule an exam for the first day back, seems reasonable. An exam on the Monday before? Seems reasonable. Hell, I don't even know why Wednesday immediately before Thanksgiving is a class day anyways!

Thomas Joseph said...

Oh and Ambivalent Academic: Your graduate director is a stupid tool. It certainly doesn't sound like he/she/it has a family ... or if he/she/it does, he/she/it doesn't appear to like them very much!

Ambivalent Academic said...

TJ & CPP - My grad director prefers to use other people as tools rather than be one him/her/itself...I'm going to stick with it, since it is clearly outside the bounds of normal human function.
It has a wife who is equally crazy, no kids, and an enormous God-complex which explains the willingness to request a meeting at absurd hours. It should know well enough by now that I do not respond well to such nonsense and refuse to give in to intimidation from such reptilian life-forms as itself. Thanks to its busy schedule, it acquiesced to my request that it just sign the forms sans meeting...of course didn't bother to respond to my email asking for confirmation of this plan of action, but thankfully it's administrative assistant is a saint and all has been taken care of.

Carrie said...

The worst evil professor I ever had scheduled an exam the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. During class. The class was from 7-10pm. I missed the exam and had to take a make up. I wouldn't have minded if the exam was sometime before 5 pm. But that late was just mean.

Anonymous said...

I don't do make-up exams after the fact. Students who have a genuine conflict let me know at least a week ahead of time, and they write earlier on the same day (or a day or two early if the test-date is completely impossible). Students who miss at the last minute (illness/emergency/arrested/etc.) have the value of the midterm added to their final. I am very nice to my students in many other ways (letting them overwrite their midterm marks with their final exam mark if it's better than the midterm average; my subject is very much a cumulative one) but I simply can't deal with all of the imaginary illnesses that cause students to miss exams at the last minute and "need" to write a few days late. This is in large part because our campus medical centre will write a medical note for anyone without any particular reason.

I would not, however, schedule an exam for the last day of classes before a holiday - but the day before that is fair game. I would also never schedule an exam for the first day or two after a holiday because students need a chance to come and ask me questions, if they have any.

Anie said...

Anonymous 10:10:

The problem with leaving Wednesday night to go somewhere for Thanksgiving is that that is when *everyone* is going somewhere for Thanksgiving. My first year of grad school, I had class until 4:30p. Immediately after class, I left to drive the hour and a half to where I was going for Thanksgiving. Because I left at 4:30, and not 3:30, it took me six hours to get there.

Anonymous said...

Yes, I give exams during the week of Thanksgiving if that is the "right" time for an exam (based on the amount of material). At my school, we have classes on Mon. and Tues. of Thanksgiving week. I gave an exam on Monday and a quiz to my Tuesday classes. Students gripe if you give them an exam right before a break or right after. They also gripe if you give them an exam on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, or Friday.

When schools give the Wednesday off, that's your travel day. I teach at a school where 80% of the students homes are no more than 90 mins away (and some go to their parents' home every night!) No matter what you do, students are going to skip that last day in droves. They tell me that they should have the entire week off (and perhaps they should), but they would skip out on Friday classes.