Even with the rise of campus COVID-19 cases that moved Cornell to a yellow alert last week, many classes have held in-person prelims that have gathered hundreds of students for exams — marking some of the largest in-person events this spring.
University policy states that professors are allowed to give in-person prelims, regardless of the instruction mode for their course. This means that all students enrolled in courses with in-person exams must take them if they are studying in Ithaca.
One of those classes is Chemistry 2080: General Chemistry II, a popular course for students on the pre-med track. While lectures have been online, discussions and labs are both in-person.
Asher Lal ’24 said though the course is hybrid, she didn’t realize her prelim would be in person until just a week before the exam. It was her first ever in-person prelim both since the beginning of the pandemic and since coming to Cornell.
“I was nervous,” Lal said. “I didn’t know how big the room was, because I’d never been in it before because I was remote last semester.”
The exam required hundreds of students to congregate in Barton Hall. Though the usual University COVID protocols were in place, Lal said that in practice, social distancing was challenging.
“There was definitely space, but side to side, you could tell it wasn’t six feet,” Lal said. “People wore masks but some people took down theirs for water, which was to be expected for a two-hour exam.”
Afm Khan ’24 is also taking Chemistry 2080. Having taken Chemistry 2090 last fall, he was used to chemistry tests that were open book and open note. The new in-person exam format required him to change his study methods and focus on memorizing facts and preparing for application problems.
Despite the change, Khan felt the in-person format to be a better representation of what he had been learning.
Abby Stuart ’24 also said she preferred the in-person format. Her exam was for Hotel Administration 1410: Microeconomics for the Service Industry, a requirement for School of Hotel Administration students. She said that, if given the opportunity, she would have signed up for even more in-person classes to reap the benefits of a physical exam.
“I liked that everything was like on paper,” Stuart said. “Whenever we have to draw, we can just draw on the paper. We could skip a question, or you could leave it to the end and go back to it.”
Marin Silverman ’23 had her exam in Bailey Hall on clipboards instead of on desks. Her class, Animal Science 2210: Principles of Animal Genetics, has online lectures with in-person discussion sections.
Silverman said she was within six feet of other students during the exam, including when she handed in her test and when teaching assistants were answering questions. While she didn’t feel unsafe about the in-person format, she said she felt the University had created a double standard for academic and non-academic gatherings.
“They’re telling us to be socially distanced, outside, fully masked and then they’re like ‘Take your test with 100 plus people,’” Silverman said. “I don’t think that they hold themselves to the same standards when it comes to the way they regulate in-person activities for academics.”