New exam guidelines enhance student success

Recently a subcommittee of the York University Senate’s Curriculum and Academic Standards Committee undertook an extensive review of how the University administered student examinations. Working closely with Rob Tiffin, right, York’s assistant vice-president enrolment management & registrar, the subcommittee looked at different models, scheduling of exams and the use of weekend time slots for exams. Two principles were used by the subcommittee as guidelines: how the University could ensure that students were given conditions to allow them to perform to the best of their ability; and how the University could ensure the security of the examination process.

“The review resulted in a number of changes that the University implemented for the December 2004 exam schedule,” said Tiffin, who spoke on behalf of the subcommittee. The modifications to the schedule included changing the traditional four examinations per day schedule into a three per day schedule, implementing a two-hour break between exams, and redefining the definition of an exam conflict.

“The turnaround time for students who had to write more than one exam in a day was difficult when we had a one-hour break between exams,” said Tiffin. “By changing the number of exams per day from four to three, we were able to give the students a two-hour break between each exam.

“We also looked at the definition of what a conflict is. It used to be two exams at the same time or three exams in one day, both were viewed as a conflict,” he explained. “We haven’t changed that. We did look at those students who wrote an afternoon and evening exam and then a morning exam the next day. We have increased the scope of the definition of a conflict to include three examinations in a 24-hour period. We only had 163 students who had problems with direct conflicts or exceeding the three exams in 24 hours guideline.”

The subcommittee also reviewed how the University utilized the weekends. “For several years, York has been scheduling exams on Saturday and Sunday time slots. Prior to that, the University did not have exams on weekends,” said Tiffin. “Accommodations were made for religious reasons and because of the size of the University, we cannot give up weekend examinations. But we did reduce the number of exams given on the weekend by looking at the space available for exams, including new space and how existing space was currently being used.”

York’s faculties were surveyed to find out what space requirements met their needs. Non-traditional space, including tab arm chairs and tiered seating, were determined as suitable for some exams and were included in the December exam schedule. Tiffin said that faculty members were very helpful by providing additional information on the type of examination space that would meet their needs.

The results of the review, says Tiffin, have been very positive. “It was a balancing act in December because we had 950 exams scheduled that involved more than 35,000 students. We were able to achieve approximately a 60 per cent reduction in weekend examinations and this gave us some flexible time which came in handy when we had to cancel a number of exams due to a hoax call that resulted in the re-scheduling of six examinations. We were able to reschedule those exams without exceeding the conflict guidelines or compromising the breaks between exams.”

The December examination schedule is typically very busy, says Tiffin, because there are more students writing exams than in April. However, the spring will pose different challenges to the new system because of the number of year-long courses being examined in the spring.

Tiffin is confident the new system will work well in April. He is pleased with the ability of the new schedule to handle unexpected events and says the increased break time and a reduced 24-hour schedule are key factors in student success. Metrics on the changes are being collected.