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Students study on the slope on Oct. 20, 2021.

October 21, 2021

Students Grapple with In-Person Prelims as Testing Exits Zoom

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After a year of online exams and take-home prelims, Cornellians are back in the swing of in-person prelim season — challenging some students who are adjusting to night exams and the rhythms of in-person test-taking.  

Some students said they’ve generally found in-person prelims more stressful than their online versions last year. Veda Balte ’24, who took math, electrical engineering and economics exams this semester, said she found studying for in-person exams to be more strenuous.

“I have to remember all the nitty gritty on top of understanding basic concepts,” Balte said. 

In the online versions, she said, the exams were open note and required less memorization of details. 

Though the University especially raised concerns about academic integrity violations during online semesters, Megan Jung ’23 said she has observed that cheating has continued into in-person exams.

Going into an applied economics and management prelim, Jung said she overheard a conversation behind her and realized that some students were looking at the exam questions and discussing them before the exam began.

Students are also adjusting to a stricter testing schedule, including night exams. While some students flocked to Barton Hall and other testing sites during the 2020-2021 academic year for exams, many also completed their prelims from their bedrooms.  

“Night tests are a lot to put on students,” Balte said. “I am already exhausted and burnt out from my classes earlier that day, and at night is when I start to relax and wind down, so it’s hard to get into that test mindset.”

Isabel Crovella ’25 shared a similar concern about her prelims, which all took place after 7 p.m., one of them running until 10:30 p.m.  

“I’m just mentally exhausted from the classes that I’ve had already earlier that day, which sometimes includes the class that I’m taking the prelim for,” Crovella said. “It’s definitely difficult for people who have lots of classes in one day.”

Balte also said she feels night prelims make it more difficult to focus during classes the next day. However, other students said they appreciated they’re later because they work better with their schedules.

“I still do appreciate that they’re later because having them earlier would conflict with classes,” Crovella said. “Engineering prelims are very long, so I appreciate that it’s all at one time and not broken up.”

Other students pointed to issues with testing locations. Balte reflected on her test experience in Bailey Hall, which doesn’t include desks for students to write on. Struggling to balance a periodic table, calculator, pen and clipboard, she said taking the exam was an unpleasant and distracting experience. 

“It would’ve been nice to have a table, because that’s not something I should be thinking about during a test,” Balte said. 

Still, Balte said she’s generally liked the in-person prelim experience more than the online version — noting the positives of in-person test taking, including the distraction-free environment without a roommate to deal with.

“I’m in the right environment,” Balte said. “I genuinely feel like I’m taking a test.”

Despite the green alert level on campus, COVID-19 has continued to affect students’ exam experiences. While Jung didn’t personally have COVID-related issues affecting her prelims, she noted that her friend in quarantine had trouble communicating with their professors. 

While Balte and Jung’s tests have all generally run smoothly, they have heard that others were not as fortunate. Balte mentioned that she had a friend who had an organic chemistry exam that was delayed by an hour, creating a long line outside. Students, she said, should be able to take exams without worrying about such delays.

“It hasn’t really hit that we are in person again,” Jung said. “It’s a bit more stressful, and I feel like professors are assuming students can go straight back to taking in person exams, but the transition back to in person has been hard for a lot of students. It’s two entirely different environments.”