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Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Cohen on reducing stress on students

May I recommend this Faculty Lounge post from David Cohen on ways that he tries to reduce stress on students (especially 1Ls) during exams. I have adopted most of the approaches that David takes, including not having the final exam count for the whole shebang.

My experience is that none of it works to reduce stress. In fact, the move away from the in-class final seems to increase their stress, because students are otherwise expecting just the big in-class exam. Which is not to say they are not worthwhile things to do.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on December 7, 2010 at 11:47 AM in Howard Wasserman, Teaching Law | Permalink


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In your statement "In fact, the move away from the in-class final seems to increase their stress, because students are otherwise expecting just the big in-class exam." I think there are two things at work.

First, in terms of moving away from just having an exam to having multiple assignments, one of the side effects of that is that there are now multiple points in the semester when the student feels stressed about being assessed (rhyme unintended). I'd like to think that it means that the sum total of stress they would otherwise feel around the 100% final is now divvied up evenly among two or more assignments so that they are proportionately less stressed for each one, but I doubt it works that way. A final that counts 60%, as my final does this semester, still probably stresses students out much more than that reduced amount.

Second, in terms of moving away from an in-class exam, I think this one is more mixed depending on the student. I regularly ask this question on my own personal course evaluation, and I get wildly different answers about it. Some feel, as your post hints at, that an in-class exam would be preferable -- a discrete point and period of time. Others fee quite the opposite, that the flexibility and longer period of time of a take-home allows them to think better. It may be more time, but it's more productive and relaxed time. There are considerable quantities of responses for both camps (as well as other camps too).

I always glibly remark to my class that if they feel more comfortable taking an in-class closed-book scheduled 3-hour exam rather than my take-home open-book schedule-on-your-own 8-hour exam, they are more than welcome to simulate those preferable conditions on their own....

Posted by: David S. Cohen | Dec 7, 2010 1:48:56 PM

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