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Final Exam Angst

Final Exam Angst

 

My first online, graduate, social work class went very well, except for one thing, the final exam. The materials for the course were set up by committee, pretty much, with one teacher organizing the course in the first place, then different teachers “facilitating” each class, and a team coming up with the review materials and the final exam, making changes each semester.

This, already, was a recipe for disaster, and when I read the conflicting review materials and practice exams I said so to my teacher. I said that, one, the review made no sense and made it unclear what in particular the exam would focus on; two, the course overall did not seem to lend itself to a final exam like this, because the readings were so various and really, a written assignment would make more sense, a test of comprehension rather than of memory; and three, the online testing set up, with a strange proctor watching us through the web cam, was just freaky.

My teacher tried to reassure me that everything would be fine, but he also asked me to let him know my thoughts once I’d finished the exam.

I tried to use the review materials to organize my study notes for the test, but they just didn’t make sense. Either the categories were too broad, or the advice conflicted from one page to the next. In the end, I did what I always do and overstudied. I re-read my notes from all of the lectures and readings, and re-read the readings themselves, and condensed my notes, then re-read my condensed notes, and re-read my original notes and re-condensed them another few times, until I’d stuffed information into every corner of my brain.

Cricket had been doing her best to interrupt studying all week, but she is, surprisingly, much less dogged than I am when it comes to studying. She only understands studying smells, and my notebooks just don’t smell that interesting to her. I was worried about how the dogs would deal with the proctor talking to me through the computer screen, so just before the test, I took them for a walk and then gave them each a chewy, and they were fine.

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“Play with me!”

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“Walkies!!!!”

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“Are you done yet?”

I considered bringing Butterfly with me to the computer for the exam, but I was afraid that the proctor would accuse her of helping me cheat on the test. I might have stuffed notes into her ears, or tattooed answers under her hair. (I actually heard from classmates that each time they moved their chairs, or dropped a pen on the floor, the proctor stopped the exam and scanned the whole room again before restarting).

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“I’m sending you the answers with my super powers, Mommy.”

My exam time was 9:15 in the morning, with my web cam wavering on top of my computer screen, and my microphone trying to slide off the desk. It took fifteen minutes for the proctor to set me up for the exam, with various browser issues and weird noises and blank screens. The exam itself only took about ten minutes. There were a handful of short answer questions, which were easy enough to answer, and twenty to thirty multiple choice questions, which, for the most part, made no sense. There were typos (!) in the exam questions, and words were misused, and some of the questions and answers were so vague that you could have chosen any of the four answers equally.

I was spitting mad. I wrote to my teacher immediately after the exam and said as much, trying not to type out the curse words rushing through my head. He wrote back within half an hour to tell me that I had scored an 80 on the test, and that all of my mistakes had been in the multiple choice section. And because the test had to count for 40% of my grade, I would earn an A- for the class.

This is where the noise in my head got all conflicted. An A- is not a bad grade, so it seems obnoxious to complain about it. If I’d skipped some of the readings, or been lackadaisical about studying, or submitted assignments late, then I would have accepted an A- with gratitude. But I know how hard I worked. I had to sit through sessions with my therapist, for eight weeks, while she criticized me for working too hard for this class.

I wrote back to my teacher and made a very clear and detailed argument for why this test was unfair, and why specific questions should be reexamined, and he took me seriously. He said no one else had complained about the test, but that that only meant they didn’t think they had the right to complain. The teacher believed that my argument deserved attention, and he took it to the chairman of the department for review. We are now waiting for a decision.

I worry that it is selfish to fight for myself, and bother people with my own needs, but the dogs have taught me that this is what you are supposed to do. Cricket worked on me for years, but it took watching Butterfly – the sweet, gentle, accommodating one – fighting for her needs, to wake me up.

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“You’ve gotta fight for your right to chewies…I mean justice.”

There is no guarantee that my argument will prevail or that my grade will be changed. In fact, more likely than not, I will be ignored, and that feeling has been difficult to sit with, like bees buzzing under my skin. I wish it didn’t bother me so much. I wish my blood didn’t boil and my thoughts run rampant. But the girls have done their best to remind me that life goes on. Walks must be taken, poop scooped, treats given. There must be scratchies, and cuddles, and adventures, and all of that matters more than this one small unfairness.

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“Hi Mommy!”

But still. Grrr!

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“Grr.”

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About rachelmankowitz

I am a fiction writer, a writing coach, and an obsessive chronicler of my dogs' lives.

94 responses »

  1. Miss Rachel, my Mom says you should fight injustice. I bet some of the other students complained but did nothing, and still others didn’t even care. This isn’t just for you. It is for those who come after as well. Mom says, ‘You go girl!” which I totally don’t understand, since “Go!” means for me to run. I wonder where and why she wants you to run…

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  2. Good for you for saying something! Even if they decide to not do a different test, I think you should still be proud of yourself for sticking up for yourself. There has been so many times where I didn’t agree with something and wish I would have stated my opinion. Bravo!

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  3. Congratulations on your hard earned A-. It sounds like a terrible mess with the exam. Glad you could get through it. I was surprised when you said it was only about ten minutes. Sounds like it should have been about an hour! Good luck on your results. Hopefully you can retake it and do better. But as you say, an A- is pretty good. Better than I probably could have done. Hope you had a good Thanksgiving. Have a good weekend. 🙂

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  4. It is NOT wrong to fight for yourself and what is right. In fact, IMHO, each of us is put on this earth with the duty to take care of ourselves – if we do not do that, how can we take care of anyone else?
    Tucking that soapbox away 😉 Hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving.

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  5. No one else is gonna fight for you, Rachel! I am so glad you stood up and let them know. Tupos on the exam–seriously?! Doesn’t matter if nothing happens with your grade–something happened with you. You got mad as hell and couldn’t take it anymore, and I am standing up and applauding!

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  6. I am so proud of you for standing up to yourself and realizing that you deserve to be heard, your thoughts are valid and allowing your girls to show you it’s more than okay to be your own advocate. I bet you will get your grade changed to an A if not an A+.

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  7. I think you all deserve a little r&r and especially for the girls, for all of the stress they had to go through…lol! You are a funny girl and get an A+

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  8. Grad school is so ridiculous sometimes! Hang in there!!! Dogs help.

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  9. ramblingsofaperforatedmind

    I totally understand! On my Master’s comps, I had a question from a teacher that I didn’t even have a class with! I passed, but it was stressful. Writing a good test takes a lot of thought.

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  10. Of course you should complain–the test grade should reflect your mastery of the course material. I am glad your instructor is taking you seriously! I have to say, from my English-teacher bias, that there is no reason a test should have a single typo. That is just wrong.

    And I love the line about you being the more ‘dogged’…

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  11. That seems a very unfortunate way of teaching and assessing Social Work which, in my day, was about relating to people – but then we didn’t have computers.

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  12. First of all – well done on your super and well deserved grade.
    Secondly, this would niggle away at me too, sounds like an extreme lack of organisation and co-ordination, but living here in France, this has become the norm and it filters through every aspect of life – so stay away.
    Thirdly, I love the way in which you are ‘grounded’ by the needs of the dogs and the way you ‘learn’ from them.
    A truly worthy ‘Sunday Papers’ post Rach (and hey – I actually read it on Sunday morning this week!!!)

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  13. You are not fighting for yourself. You’re fighting for reasonable standards and fair treatment of all students, so you’re fighting for all the students, present and future.

    Say a police officer is grossly rude to you. Say an insurance company misleads you but by chance you lose almost nothing. If you complain, you’re aiming to stop this happening again – to other people.

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  14. It takes courage to stand up for ourselves. Perhaps there won’t be any immediate changes but you set the ripple in motion and I think you should be very proud. Take those cute doggies out and strut your stuff, you got an excellent grade and you stuck up for what you thought was right in an intelligent, meaningful manner. You rocked it! Feel proud Rachel!!!!

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  15. No, Rachel, if a thing’s wrong it’s wrong and good for you for sticking to your guns over this. The whole thing sounds like a shambles. At least you knew where you were when exams meant filing into a draughty school hall with your bottle of water and Mr Men pencil case, and finding a scary-looking green paper face down on your desk. Why must human beings, in trying to “improve” things, complicate everything so?

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  16. Typos! no, just wrong. good for you for complaining. It’s hard being the squeaky wheel, so much easier to just let things slide, but the world needs people like you to push things along!

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  17. I’m glad you told them how unfair the test was. You’re right in that it might not change your grade (although it should, in my opinion), but your willingness to stand up for yourself may well make them reconsider how they give this test to future students. Someone has to speak up or things are never improved, and I’m glad you did!

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  18. You are fighting not only for yourself but for all the students, who were equally confused and didn’t say anything. Hang in there. You may have won the battle, let’s see if you win the war. I believe in you! Woof! Love, Maggie

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  19. Good for you Rachel…even though you got a passing grade by taking this fight to Administration then you may be helping another student who was confused by the test but didn’t have the courage to speak up…Final exams should be clear and concise! 🙂

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  20. of course and amazing, one german component in your native language…
    be cool my dear to overcome youre’s weaker self…have a good sunday in advent…(or something like chanukka or similar to ours…)

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  21. Hi Rachel,
    As always, such wondeerful pictures of your canine kin; you can see the love you have for each other shining in their bright eyes. Thanks for the reminder to online teachers (e.g. moi-meme) to be very attentive to detail in communicating properly in the online environs. I am currently developing an online class and will remember your experience when it comes to establishing “assessment tools.” Linda

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  22. It’s appalling that an academic institution doesn’t respect the value of proper continuity and review in developing a course. Congratulations on the A– but really it could easily have been an A+ if you were in a more comfortable frame of mind about the course.

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  23. Cute dogs! Thanks for stopping by my blog. i appreciate it. And congrats on the exam score!!

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  24. I think it’s grand that you did speak up when you saw the flaws. That’s how change is started – if not with your specific complaint this time, then it’s there for future when they get another. And if the test was as poorly put together as it seems from your description, there will be another. I am fighting an on-going battle here and the person in authority said “Nobody has ever complained BEFORE. I’m glad you folks did (I’m not alone in my battle) because now we have a PRECEDENT.” It takes some guts to speak out when you know that your words will probably fall on deaf ears or be disregarded or worse still, that you’ll be regarded as ‘stirring up trouble’ or ‘being picky’. That spelling business would have driven ME bonkers. But I’m finding that spelling is becoming a lost ‘art’….few people seem to care about it any more. Even on important things such as exams. Congratulations on your A-!!

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  25. Good for you speaking up Rachel! How else are things supposed to improve. Kudos to your instructor to listen to your observations.

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  26. I think if the test is unfair you have a perfect right to politely but firmly complain about it. It’ll be interesting to see what happens.

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  27. How very extraordinarily annoying. I hope they arrange the next one better.

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  28. You want unfair? This actually happened to my peep in a respected college. The final consisted of the professor giving everyone three of those infernal blue booklets. He said as he left the room, “write down everything you know”. The course was calculus.

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  29. Maybe they will at least take your complaints into consideration to revise the test for future classes. Which would not help you of course, but at least would mean you had done some good. That whole webcam thing is just creepy. The fact that you could actually answer any questions while under that sort of scrutiny is in itself worthy of an A+.

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  30. Good for you Rachel! Just want to add a quick Thank you for sharing. Your posts are always interesting, your sense of humor is delightful, and never fails to make me laugh out loud .Quite honestly, they shame my feeble efforts at composing a post.But I sure enjoy yours. Doggone it [awful pun] you have got some serious writing skills young lady!

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  31. It is never selfish to fight for shat you believe in especially when you believe in yourself. I am happy you wrote to your teacher and told him the test was unfair. That is how you effect change. You go girl!!!

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  32. Well I lost a whole comment. I agree you should fight and if nothing comes of it you still get an admirable grade. Sounds to me like you cared the most about your grade of the whole class. Always stand up for yourself. I am proud of you for that. I am blogging again and you were my only follower from my other blog and I think I saw you here too!! from me posting on my facebook. I just wanted to say, I appreciate you. Thank you! http://autismsurvivor984.blogspot.com/

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  33. i am so impressed by this! i don’t know that i would have been able to stand up for myself the way you did. and the way you interweave the photos and “comments” from your precious dogs… well, it makes for a full experience, the bitter and the sweet. a snapshot from a life we will never get to live — yours — but which nonetheless teaches us something about ourselves. i have been away from wordpress, and have missed your posts. from the beginning, you have been one of my favorites. this feels like a fan letter, and i suppose it is! thank you, rachel, for your honesty and compassion and grit.

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  34. I’m so glad you stood up for yourself – and I will hope that the problems are acknowledged and taken care of. And if not, there are treats to be given (and the knowledge that you did all you could in the situation – better to stand up and not get the results than to remain quiet and forever wonder what would have happened).

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  35. I have been teaching online (humanities) for many years and have always given “open book” exams. Why test for memorization in a world where we look things up on the Internet? The goal of a course should be to teach thinking skills and tests should reflect that aim.

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  36. Pups help keep things in perspective!!

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  37. While I’m sorry you’ve had to deal with the issues of a poorly written test, I think it’s wonderful how Cricket and Butterfly have taught you to respond to some areas of your life. Dogs are amazing teachers. Regardless of the outcome of the committee, I think you should feel very proud of yourself for speaking up and for the excellent grade. Besides the benefits we gain from acquiring knowledge far outweigh any grade someone assign- right? Love your doggie pictures and stories.

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  38. Hm…your online exam prep reminds me of my intense test prep during my undergraduate years (as well as I can remember). I think the best prep you did was take the dogs for a walk and give them treats. Perhaps next time you might give yourself a treat like a bag of potato chips before the monitor sweeps the room. All of this is too upsetting to me. I would have never made 80%. Bless your heart.

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  39. Okay, three points: 1.) I taught college literature and writing for ten years and always gave open-book, open-note tests. Screw memorization. I wanted to reward thinking. Anywho. 2.) I have to state my ongoing admiration for your skill in weaving your blog theme into your posts. You make it work. I gave up on sticking to the napping theme long ago. Bravo to you. And 3.) that last photograph is perfect! Peace, John

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    • I have tons of ideas for how to keep the napping theme going!!! Butterfly is masterful at it, actually. She’s going to give an online class on the varieties of napping, and she too will only give open book tests.

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  40. My exam days are behind me, but I feel for you. I can still remember a dreadful injustice done to one of my fellow students when I did my final year of Speech Pathology. This girl had passed all her clinical placements but failed the last one, with the recommendation that she just needed another month or so of practical experience. She was sent to another clinic with a different supervisor who declared that she was hopeless and would have to go right back to second year (this was 4th year) and repeat all her clinics in that subject. She refused to do so and they wouldn’t let her graduate. So after 4 years she walked away with no qualification. Unfortunately she wasn’t one of the vociferous students with lots of confidence. They would never have got away with it if she had been. So yes, make as much noise as you can!

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  41. Bravo!!!…and hugs. Lots of ’em. 🙂

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  42. Well done, Rachel – on what you’ve achieved and in standing up for yourself, which is always so hard! Hope you get some supportive response from the authorities. Pip

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  43. I would have complained, too, under these circumstances. I really hope that the authorities take notice of you and come up with a fair solution.

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  44. I hope you got a good result for standing up for yourself. And go Butterfly! I’ve noticed the gentle ones (cats & dogs) have their little ways of getting what they need and want 😉

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