As finals week begins, some professors at Binghamton University are ditching the traditional pen-and-paper final exam and are instead administering electronic or take-home tests, marking a growing trend toward alternative examination formats.
The push toward untraditional exams is being driven by increasingly complicated finals week schedules for students and convenience in administering and grading tests for professors. Unlike traditional finals, online or take-home tests don’t require professors to proctor examinations or grade handwritten responses, and for students, they provide flexibility in scheduling and a more relaxed finals experience.
According to Christine Gelineau, a lecturer in the English department at BU and the associate director of the creative writing program, she began to administer an online final for her ENG 370D: Re-Visioning America class when there was a semester in which two of her students were not going to be present to take it because of scheduling conflicts. However, she said the online examination actually ended up making grading easier because it provided typed responses. Ever since, she’s used the online format during finals week, and said she believes it has been well-received by most students in her class.
“Once I had worked the bugs out with that wholly online course, and enjoyed the benefits of having typed exam essays to read instead of blue books crammed with nearly inscrutable handwritten answers, the choice to offer the exam online even for ‘brick-and-mortar’ classes was irresistible,” Gelineau wrote in an email. “When I first began doing this, I did find some students apprehensive about the online format but by now the vast majority of students seem to be wholly comfortable with Blackboard and an online option.”
Nevertheless, some students are still skeptical of untraditional final exams. Caroline Bikles, a senior majoring in environmental studies, said she prefers traditional finals and doesn’t feel that online or take-home exams help relieve her workload or stress.
“Take-home finals and electronic finals may be more beneficial to those who aren’t good at traditional test taking, but most often people look up the answers online and don’t actually learn the material,” Bikles said. “I feel like having half of your finals before finals week and half during finals week helps take a lot of the pressure off since you have less to worry about.”
But others are open to the idea. Aadarsh Devkota, a sophomore majoring in integrative neuroscience, prefers traditional pen-and-paper tests, but said he understands alternative testing formats might be beneficial for others.
“I think take-home tests are fine as long it is harder and more conceptual-based,” Devkota said. “Usually, electronic tests are pretty short duration so there isn’t even enough time to look up answers. I actually still prefer traditional tests because I think individuals have an easier time being in a test-taking zone. It might be easier for some.”