May

8

In Defense of: The In-Class Final

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As exams begin to wind down, Bwog advocatus diaboli John Sarlitto defends what has been making your life a living hell since Friday: the in-class final.

Two black holes merging: brought to you by your neurosis and a take home final

“How many finals do you have?” you might hear someone ask in those heady twilight moments of the semester, before the darkness and the shadows truly set in. A common enough response goes something like, “Four, but it’s ok; two are take-homes.”

Friends, set aside my unconvincing attempt to simulate human dialogue—because this sentiment is definitively NOT ok.

I’m here to defend the much-maligned in-class final, but against what? Just as spiders have the basilisk and your stomach has weird John Jay meat, the in-class has an ancient enemy it fears above all others: the term paper. The voices of our ancestors have weighed in on their mortal combat before, and the contest will rage long after all of us are gone. This isn’t the place to resolve it. The take-home, however, is an unwelcome interloper. Somewhere between essay and exam, it embodies the worst elements of each.

The take-home is both more deceitful and more difficult than an in-class test. If you can complete it in the comfort of your single or Butler hellhole with the semester’s worth of books and unlimited resources at your disposal, you’d better believe that the standards are going to be higher. Imagine the most neurotic person in your class, and then what he or she will be doing with days to complete a test while you watch Hulu. That’s what you’re up against. In a 180-minute exam period, even that guy can only wreak so much havoc.

The questions will be harder and more incisive. They will be more numerous. They will be designed to ferret out the person whose involvement in the class began with the exam. Rightly so, perhaps, but your reading week will be its collateral damage. The take-home rejoices in this, because it enjoys lying to your face. Your professor might implore you not to worry about it, maybe to spend no more than x small number of hours completing it. To believe this would be an amateur’s mistake. You need to treat it like a paper, but with its very specific prompts and required readings, you get none of the satisfaction of creating and submitting a piece of original scholarship. You get only a headache and an opportunity for neurosis.

As those who sleep on the floors of public places routinely demonstrate, one can obsess over anything, and studying for in-class exams is certainly no fun. However, after three hours of torture, even the worst of them is finished. Plus, you get that day-of adrenaline rush, and the leniency of writing by hand in a bluebook. Don’t remember how to spell that distinguished historian’s name? Just capitalize the first letter and scribble away illegibly for an inch or so.  Run out of time to write a conclusion? Odds are, no one will hold it against you. Cite a few of the readings and actually have a thesis, and you’ll earn that A-range grade you so covet. Even if you don’t, campus looks a bit brighter as you walk out, because, goddammit, you raced the clock and finished something.

So send the take-home back to the workshop of misery and deception from which it emerged. Flip over the page, read the instructions, you have until noon. Pick up your pen; you’ve got this. Begin.

“Sick Space Shot” via Wikimedia Commons, “Man”

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21 Comments

  1. Anonymous  

    YES! I couldn't agree more.

  2. So true  

    The adrenalin rush is what I live for, it is like my cocaine. Woke up at 7 am without an alarm clock because I was so excited. Take home tests got nothing my on 3 finals today

  3. Anonymous  

    " Cite a few of the readings and actually have a thesis, and you’ll earn that A-range grade you so covet."
    i wish life was that easy :(
    #lifeasarealmajor

    • Anonymous  

      I've had friends who are majoring in the social sciences who said that not once in their collegiate career was there the possibility that they would do poorly as long as they put enough time into their studying, paper, etc. As a major in a natural science, that makes no sense to me. There are hordes of student who study their hearts out and do really poorly in biology or physics - the threat of failure is literally always there and there is never an easy way out.

      • Anonymous  

        I'm jealous of your friends, who have clearly been very lucky with professors.

        I am not good at math, so I struggled for that B+ in Calc III. But I walked into each and every exam fully aware that I didn't know what I was doing. Calc I was within my abilities, so I walked in knowing I knew the stuff and got an A. Meanwhile, humanities are SUBJECTIVE. I can walk in with full command of the material and my professor can give me a B because he or she just doesn't like me or disagrees with my opinion. It's SO frustrating.

  4. Anonymous  

    This is really excellent! Can this become a series where people offer arguments in defense of things that people normally gripe about? (things like dining hall food, the teacher having class inside instead of going outside, children/tourists walking around on campus, etc)

    • Anonymous  

      I do not understand what makes this joke funny, but please tell me you are actually joking.

      • Anonymous  

        I'm serious. Although I realize now that this series already exists (click on the "In Defense Of" tag). Now that I know that, I think that Bwog should have posts on the subject more frequently.

        As for the topics I mentioned:
        Frankly I think its ridiculous how much people complain about dining hall food. You're guaranteed fresh ingredients for a salad, hot slices of pizza with different toppings, a hot meal with sides and vegetarian options, deli sandwiches, soda/coffee, frozen yogurt/icecream, all in unlimited quantities! It irks me because whenever people complain about the taste/quality of dining hall food, they rarely cook meals or eat at places that are much better. Do you expect me to believe that the person who complains about John Jay food actually goes out and gets a ton of fresh ingredients on a weekly basis so as to create a different entree each night? Most of the people I know who cook for themselves make very very simple meals from frozen Trader Joe's meal kits. There's nothing wrong with doing that, but for me those kinds of meals are equivalent to John Jay, so why complain about it?

        As for having class outside, if you're being honest, the class is never as focused as it would be if it was held inside. Remember, if it's really a nice day outside, then that means the lawns are going to be FILLED with people, just hanging out or throwing frisbees or w/e. Going outside lowers the possibility for the whole class to be engaged, for what? So that the 2 people who suggested it to the teacher can daydream if they're feeling bored? Those 2 should just say they're sick and skip class, doing the rest of their peers a favor.

        Bwog has already touched on the last issue. see the article, "In Defense of Kids"

        • Seriously?  

          Unless John Jay has improved drastically in the past three years, I would take something frozen from Trader Joe's over John Jay any day. Throughout freshman year, I was consistently amazed that pizza could be THAT BAD.

  5. grossed out  

    to those who think eating potato chips in the library during finals is acceptable:
    go masticate in hell

  6. Anonymous  

    I'm serious. But I just realized that Bwog already has this series (click on the "In Defense Of" tag). Now that I know that, I think they should have more writers post on the topic.

    As for the things I mentioned:

    Frankly I think its ridiculous how much people complain about dining hall food. You're guaranteed fresh ingredients for a salad, hot slices of pizza with different toppings, a hot meal with sides and vegetarian options, deli sandwiches, soda/coffee, frozen yogurt/icecream, all in unlimited quantities! It irks me because whenever people complain about the taste/quality of dining hall food, they rarely cook meals or eat at places that are much better.

    As for having class outside, if you're being honest, the class is never as focused as it would be if it was held inside. Remember, if it's really a nice day outside, then that means the lawns are going to be FILLED with people, just hanging out or throwing frisbees or w/e. Going outside lowers the possibility for the whole class to be engaged, for what? So that the 2 people who suggested it to the teacher can daydream if they're feeling bored? Those 2 should just say they're sick and skip class, doing the rest of their peers a favor.

    Bwog has already touched on the kids issue: http://bwog.com/2010/10/13/in-defense-of-kids/

  7. Anonymous

    I don't think you've ever set foot in Mudd.
    Fuck you.

  8. Take-Home Hater  

    Thank you. I've wanted someone to say this for a long time.

  9. The Masked Robin'd Hoodie  

    Unlike the Draconian and Machiavellian spoc that denies that human babies outisde the womb are people who should be fed breast milk, we at the spocsucks community understand you difficult plight and wish you the best of luck on your harrowing exams. So bwog advocates teh chaos and unpredictability of exams that does not actually test knowledge of course material but how lucky one was in picking the CORRECT material to study. YOU SICKEN ME, AND I AM ALREADY SICK YOU NOOB! spécsucks.wordpress.com

  10. Clearly, you're not a math/science major

    Exams in math/science are infinitely more stressful and require much more studying than the humanities. You can literally always FAIL a math/science exam, but you will never fail a humanities test. By making humanities tests take-home, it only further discredits your majors because it makes them even easier -- no one FAILS takehome exams. Maybe it's harder to get an A on a takehome, but it's extremely easy to get a B.

    Your argument also solely applies to the humanities. Think the alleged fervor with which humanities students complete takehome exams, and then apply that to individuals studying for math/science exams. We actually have to work our asses off for the in-class exams because during our 3 hours, we are responsible for real, actual knowledge. It'd be a nice break to have a take-home.

    • Anonymous

      Yes! I'd love to have a take-home final. Beats that horrible feeling of sitting there during an exam, and realizing you have no idea how to answer one of the questions because you don't understand the topic as well as you thought...

    • Anonymous  

      If only I were majoring in math and science-- I'd love to gain some real, actual knowledge. It's really easy to write a 30 page term paper without any of that!

  11. ...  

    a beautiful phrase: "the final exam will be held on the last day of class"

    short, sweet, and out of the way early. it's really a win for everyone.

    with respect to take-home exams... i fear them. you won't be asked to recall something, you won't be asked to recall something and apply it in a simple way. you'll be asked to apply the concepts learned in the class in some new way that actually requires a deep understanding of the subject matter for which the solution was not covered in class, nor in the textbook, nor anywhere else. if you really have your shit together, they're fine. otherwise, forget it. (fun fact: nearly all exams at caltech are take-home... i've been told that's because all the resources in the world can't help you)

    and don't get me started on project classes. it all sounds wonderful at the start, but that's because project classes always start with some wonderful idealistic vision of actually being able to focus on a long term piece of work and produce something awesome. of course that vision is totally crushed by unengaged projectmates or mountains of busy work for required classes and ultimately that long term piece of awesome turns into a 24 hour sprint piece of shit.

    "Imagine the most neurotic person in your class, and then what he or she will be doing with days to complete a test while you watch Hulu." -- i laughed.

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