‘Tis the Season for Exams

Last minute studying for that test, knowing that once it’s over, you are free, free to do whatever you want before coming right back to a mountain-load of work. Or maybe spending every last minute of the time off studying, working extra hard for that one test, because you had time off and you want to make it worth the effort. Either location of assessments, before or after days off, is a difficult situation and equally hard decision to make.  The Knewton science team sought out an answer, when they asked how do school holidays affect student scores.

This new take on the holidays was a follow up to their research done on the “Friday effect”, a term coined to describe the scenario in which students perform weaker towards the end of the week. Data showed as much as a five percent decrease on tests taken Friday than any other weekday.

In their new study released regarding the holidays, researchers discovered that students showed an even larger decrease in average test scores as time off approached. Right before Thanksgiving and Winter break, test scores dropped by almost 10-15 percent.

The general idea was that the longer the break, the scores dropped as students approached the start of the vacation. This was possible in the case of the three-day weekend data, where the Friday before MLK showed a small drop, while the Friday before Memorial day had an incredible decrease. This particular instance could be explained by the fact that MLK is at the start of the new year, while Memorial day only weeks away from summer vacation.

So, does this mean that tests should be held after time off?

The Complexity

Despite research showing that students score lower before breaks, the decision of where to place testing is still not clear cut. English teacher Hannah Gould considers testing to be very difficult in general around breaks.

“When you take three days off from thinking about something, then it’s usually harder to get back in the swing of things,” Gould said. “As we get closer to the end of the semester, everybody’s more and more tired.”

Gould believes that taking tests right before and after breaks are a difficult task, and that initially, in the September period, days off were refreshing, but as the semester has progressed, approaching finals, students are just too exhausted to get any sort of energy boost.  

“I think both are hard. It’s just that the anticipation of the holiday combined with all of the tiredness from before is just really hard.” Gould said, “I don’t think there is a good time for tests at this point.”

Based on a survey conducted of MVHS students, 95 percent of students feel less focused when a break approaches. This coincides with Knewton’s research of weaker scores towards breaks. However, if a test were placed after a break, 77.5 percent of students would cram during the given time off. Regardless of a test though, 85 percent of students feel little to no refreshment following a break.

MVHS has tried to address this issue of deciding test dates by introducing measures such as Conflict Calendars to classrooms, but they do not really deem effective.

“Now, when there are way more tests, there’s nothing on them,” Gould said, “I think people are just like ‘Why take the time to write it down there, everybody knows it.’”

One part of the problem is that students do not use the calendars frequently. However, even if students took the time to write their schedules down, the teachers and their courses cannot easily adjust to needs, due to limited time and large curriculums.

“[HAMLit] has so many assessments to pack into the end,” Gould said, “there’s no way we can move it around based on somebody else’s exam schedule.”

Possible Solutions

The largest issue is that students must be tested, they must also receive time off and they will be stressed regardless of the time of the test. There are small things though that can be done from both students and teachers to make the rough path a bit smoother.

Junior Ankita Mitra understands the struggles for both students and teachers to make exams fit into their schedules.

“In a school like MV, it’s impossible to schedule quizzes or tests on days where no student has a conflict.” Mitra said, “Some teachers who are really intent on avoiding conflicts have ways for individual students to take the tests on a better date for them, which seems much more effective than Conflict Calendars.”

Similarly, Gould gives opportunities for her classes to get up and move around during longer sessions, and sometimes plays a little bit of music. She also believes that while the Conflict Calendars are quite ineffective, they serve a bit of purpose in keeping students a little organized, having a visible reminder of exams and assignments if it is filled out.

These small things can be played by the teacher, but it is still up to the students to make the decisions.

“How else do you organize it if you are taking all the courses at once?” Gould said, “It really comes down to a question of volume: how many classes you’re trying to take and how much material is in all of the classes.”

On top of mapping out your personal course schedule, there are study habits that can help students reduce stress around exams.

Reviewing everyday in small portions is scientifically proven to be very effective when it comes to memorizing content. Studying in sessions of 20 to 30 minutes allows the brain to process information more efficiently, rather than cramming in a four to five hour period.

Arranging study groups with peers also improve your understanding of the material, as a pattern of teaching and listening will allow your brain to process information in a more logical manner.

The most important and commonly stated is to avoid distractions. Put away the phone, avoid multitasking, and gather all materials before settling down in a “sacred” space to have full focus on what you’re learning.

As the semester approaches the end, teachers and students are rushing to finish content with exams. While the breaks in between have multiple effects on test taking, a huge part of the solution can be your ability to manage your time.