On summatives and stress
Sam Barnett – CONTRIBUTOR
I would kindly like to start by saying that this isn’t really a conspiracy theory. When you think of conspiracy theories, you are reminded of aliens, Area 51, or the moon landing. Perhaps even the Illuminati. No, this is a theory that is conspiratorial but not necessarily a conspiracy. To begin, pay rapt attention to those around you; you may come to find that their hustle and bustle seems suspiciously co-ordinated. This is no coincidence. Tests, assignments, and the like are almost always piled up around the same times of the year. In high school, I found this experience strikingly similar, and while I initially believed that this was because the textbooks were all by the same publishing company and, therefore, had the same structure and number of sections, I have come to a different, more intriguing conclusion.
Professors that dole out these same tests and assignments often make comments about how they worry for their students’ well-being. This concern for students who are overwhelmed by examinations and assignments would come off as a little more sympathetic if they weren’t the ones distributing the assignments. So why do they show remorse? “Sorry” is something you say when you desire to make a change and not repeat the offence. This doesn’t seem to be the case with most professors. It’s almost like they’re purposefully trying to convince us that they aren’t doing this to stress us out but, instead, that we deserve a cumulative product of a semester’s work of knowledge. They wait until the last week to have things due. Simple and sly, as if we won’t blame them for the stress we’ve paid to have inflicted upon ourselves.
Perhaps it is all part of some bigger plan. Some schools are well known for their bell curves; others are better known for their drop-out rates. Perhaps only a certain number of students can make it through the program, and the waves of assignments are designed to weed out the weak, to figure out which students can sink or swim. Perhaps there is someone controlling the faculty, who synchronizes all the examinations in the same range of time to test us not only on the material, but on our ability to balance school and social life.
On some level, perhaps, it makes sense. What better way to evaluate an individual’s knowledge than with a summative at the end of three months (six, if you’re taking a full year course)? However, when every class decides to use this method, these assignments tend to compound and spike the stress levels of students. Knowing that this stress piles up disproportionately at the end of the year is a preference for some but a menace for most. Professors, especially tenured ones who have been teaching for many years, ought to know about this kind of stress buildup. Perhaps this is the way it must be. Or is it?