Examining Exams

Amongst the excitement of valued annual traditions such as Brunch, Feast, and Pageant, there is the annual week of no sleep, high stress levels, and hours of painful studying. It’s the one time of year where you never change out of sweatpants, find justifiable reasons for eating a pint of ice cream once a day, and are showering far less then you should be. Exam week is upon us. So what makes one exam week worse than another? What makes the studying harder, the nights longer, and the mental breakdown happen sooner?

While you may not think much about the influence that the order of exams has on students studying, it not only decides which exams get priority, but also the quality of studying for each exam.

This year’s schedule (Monday, Dec. 14-Friday, Dec. 18):

  • Monday a.m.- English Exam
  • Monday p.m.- AP Economics and AP Government Exams
  • Tuesday- Science Exam
  • Wednesday- History Exam
  • Thursday- World Language Exam
  • Friday- Math Exam

Since English is first, it will get the studying it needs. A few hours of vocabulary and book theme reviewing, and each student should feel prepared. Overall, Collegiate students seem to like having English first. One major reason that people prefer English first is because it is a required exam only your freshman year; many, if not most, English classes sophomore year and up have a final project or portfolio instead of an exam. This gives those who do not have an English exam a free morning, which is extremely useful if you are taking an AP Economics or AP Government exam later that day.


Photo credit: Alberto G. via flickr

After English, in the afternoon, if you are in one of the five AP Economics or AP Government classes, you have your exam. This is one of the first years that a specific time has been selected for these two exams. In previous years, students were allowed to choose a make-up time slot. While many students like that there is a uniform testing time this year, most upperclassmen wish that the English exam and Econ. and Gov. exams were flipped. “English should be in the afternoon, because most people don’t have it” explained Catherine Foster (‘16). They also pointed out that this would allow them to finish the test quicker and allow them more time to study for their next exam.

On Tuesday, we take our science exams. This is where it is crucial to understand that there are two different types of exam takers. There are the proactive students and the procrastinator students. The proactive students want their hardest exams at the beginning of the week to get them over with. They would much rather spend hours upon hours the weekend before exams studying, instead of spending time during the week. Libby Wray (‘16) considers herself a proactive student, stating that she “likes to get work done as soon as she receives it.”

Then there are the procrastinator students. These students would rather sleep in on the weekend before exams and spend a few less hours studying and a few more hours catching up on their favorite show on Netflix. It isn’t that they don’t care about getting a good grade; it’s that they would rather sit down the day before an exam and study for 12 straight hours than study a few days before. So a student’s opinion on whether the science exam, a typically difficult exam, should be at the beginning or end of the week depends on what kind of student they are. I, personally, am an attempted proactive but an undeniable procrastinator. Although I would love to finish all of my exams at the beginning of the week, I also need my weekend dose of Criminal Minds. The popular opinion this year is that the students are happy that science is Tuesday, especially those who will be taking it as their first exam. “Science and math should definitely be at the beginning,” explained Tucker Harris (‘16).


Photo credit: Betsy Watters

Our next exam is history. Each grade has a different opinion about when history should be taken. The seniors do not take history classes (Senior Seminar has no final exam), therefore many of them wish that the exam was at the end of the week, so that they can be finished with all exams sooner. “Definitely history last” states Caroline Goggins (‘16). Juniors take U.S. History, which is arguably the hardest Collegiate history class. This exam requires hours of studying, so many wish that it was also pushed back. Their ideal time to take it would be preferably after an easier exam, so they have plenty of time to study in the few leading days. For sophomores and freshman, it depends on the class that they are taking. Some are in religion class, which usually has a fairly short exam, while others might be taking their first standard high school history class. They tend to be able to function with any exam schedule.

The Thursday exam this semester is language. This again depends on the student’s language level. By this time of the week, students are tired. They’ve been working nonstop for five days, sleeping far below the recommended hours, and their brains are full, with an overload of information regarding several different subjects. If you are a senior in AP French, you are about to take the hardest exam of your life. However, most language exams tend to be a little easier. They’re focused on a few hundred vocab words, about 50 tenses of verbs, and five or six grammar lessons. While it will require lots of studying, each student knows exactly what they need to know.

On Friday, we take math. This seems to be the most ill-placed exam. When it comes down to it, nobody wants to spend their Friday morning doing hours of hard math. This exam will get the least amount of studying. Most students will not have thought about it before Thursday night. They may study for a few hours, reviewing notes and maybe doing a few practice problems, but eventually they’ll begin to feel exhausted. To do well on their last exam, it becomes more important for them to sleep than for them to study. So they will pack up their notes early and tuck themselves instead of staying up late and studying. “Math shouldn’t be on Friday” said Clay Bowden (‘16), who, although a dedicated student, is unsure of how strong her preparation for her math exam will be.
Overall, whether or not a student can thrive in this exam schedule all depends on the individual. What are their hardest classes? Which exams do they not have to take? Are they a proactive student or a procrastinator? Julia Hahn (‘16) says she thinks the solution is if “we could schedule when we take our exams.” If Sarah Whitaker (’16) could chose her own exam schedule, it would be completely different from this year’s schedule:

Sarah Whitaker’s Ideal Exam Schedule

  • Monday- Math Exam
  • Tuesday- Science Exam
  • Wednesday a.m.- AP Econ and Gov Exams
  • Wednesday p.m.- English Exam
  • Thursday- Language Exam
  • Friday- History Exam

Dr. Z. Bart Thornton, Upper School Dean of Faculty, English teacher, and former chair of the English department, who was in charge of deciding the exam schedule, doesn’t see any issues in this year’s exam schedule. “I think it’s a good schedule and, personally, haven’t heard any complaints,” he stated, adding on that it’s “important for equity and fairness to students and faculty.” While many students focus on their studying and test taking issues, it’s crucial to keep in mind that teachers also need time to create the exam and grade it. This could mean hours of work, especially for teachers like AP Biology teacher David Fahey, who has five different classes to manage. While some students call for exam schedule reform, administrators need to be able to meet and collaborate with teachers to come up with the most beneficial schedule for all. Some students have already taken time to do this. “[I] talked to [Mr. Watson] and expressed my frustrations about the schedule,” said Millie Dubose (‘16) who said he understood her complaints. Dr. Thornton also explained to me that the department heads have already planned the exam schedule in a rotating style for the next four semesters. This means that each exam will rotate a day forward next semester, and English will become last. Hopefully, future exam weeks will be able to form into a less stressful and positive experience to reflect on all that we have learned and excite the students and teachers for second semester. 

Editors’ Note: The opinions published by The Match are solely those of the authors, and not of the entire publication or its staff as a whole. The Match welcomes thoughtful commentary and response to our content. You can respond in the comments below, but please do so respectfully. Letters to the Editors will be published, but they are subject to revision based on content and length. Letters can be sent to match@collegiate-va.org.

Cover image: Wikimedia Commons via user KF.

About the author

Margaret is a senior at Collegiate.