A recently developed guideline may help lighten the load for stressed out students during finals period.
Yale College has enacted a regulation that limits final examinations of new courses from being worth more than 50 percent of a student’s grade in most cases. The Yale College Council recommended this cap at the end of fall 2013 in an effort to reduce student anxiety, and YCC Academics Director David Lawrence ’15 said the Course of Study Committee approved the guideline the following spring. Students interviewed indicated the guideline is a welcome change.
“I think it’s a good policy because it takes a lot of stress off,” Kelly Hsu ’15 said.
There are some exceptions to the guideline, though, which will be considered on a case-by-case basis, Lawrence said. When presenting a new course, a professor can petition the Course of Study Committee to ease the limit on his or her class, he said. Lawrence added that if a student did badly at the start of a course and wanted the final to count for more than 50 percent, the guideline does not stop that student from making such an argument to a professor.
Lawrence said that while the YCC could not monitor the final grade weights for all classes, students are encouraged to send any concerns to the YCC.
Economics professor Katerina Simons said in an email that the regulation would prevent unnecessary anxiety. Students should have a reasonable idea of their performance in a class before the final, she added.
The guideline had broad student support, YCC President Michael Herbert ’16 said. In a survey of 1,602 students, 79 percent of the respondents believed an exam worth more than 50 percent of their final grade would increase their stress levels, he said.
YCC Vice President Maia Eliscovich Sigal ’16 said she personally saw the impact of the cap when she noticed one of her own final examinations would be worth more than half of her grade.
“I asked my professor if he had Course of Study approval,” she said. “He said he didn’t know about the new rule and agreed to change it to 50 percent.”
Of 12 students interviewed, 11 agreed with the new regulation.
Kyle Deakins ’18 said weighing a final exam too heavily could cause anxious students to underperform.
But Zoot Garbasz ’18 said there are some advantages of a heavily weighted final exam, especially in math classes.
“I like it when a professor cares if you learn the material by the end of the year,” she said. “I have had professors who say if you get an ‘A’ on the final, [then] you have an ‘A’ in the class.”
Marco Ortega ’15 disagreed, saying the guideline should have no exceptions and should extend to papers as well as projects. It is wrong to heavily weigh a student’s achievements on a single evaluation, he said, no matter the circumstance.
Alex Kaufman, a freshman at Harvard, said he would like the Harvard Undergraduate Council to consider bringing the new guideline to Cambridge. Doing so, he said, would lead to more engagement in classes, less stress and higher student performance.
Harvard Undergraduate Council President Gus Mayopoulos said he would consider arguing for a similar regulation.
“It seems like a very reasonable policy to support,” he said. “I think student mental health is important, and it makes sense to try to reduce stress while also making sure that student understanding is reflected in a final exam.”
Final examinations begin on Dec. 12.
Correction: Dec. 1
A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that a policy capping final exams at 50 percent of the overall grade was implemented earlier this year. In fact, the changed exam policy merely recommends that professors cap final exams at 50 percent.