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Surving Exam Week: Tips to Help Instructors Stay Sane

Finals week is almost here! The end of the semester is bitter-sweet, a relief, and chaos all rolled into one. As an instructor, you’ll be wrapping up the end of the semester lessons, finalizing your grade book, and getting ready for things on campus to wind down.

However, that last week – finals week – can be a frenzied and stressful time for even the most seasoned faculty member. Here are five tips to help you prepare, and stay calm and collected during the end of the semester.

  1. Get Ready for the Office Hours Panic

The end of the semester often brings students into a state of panic about their grades. From A+ students to those struggling with the material, often students during the end of a semester will seek out instructors for advice and insight about the upcoming finals and what they should study.

To manage this, do yourself a favor upfront. Reestablish office hours and your email/phone policy with your students. Let students know where you’ll be during office hours when they can visit, and what type of information they should come prepped with to make the most of their 1:1 time. This can help save you from frustrating all-encompassing questions like “What should I be studying?” and “What score do I need on this final to pass this course?”.

If it makes sense for you, you can also set up an office hours schedule to ensure that your students don’t all descend on your office at once asking for help. On the plus side, signing up for a specific office hour time makes students that much more likely to take advantage of your valuable time.

  1. Share Study Guides / Conduct Finals Review

Students often get tunnel vision at the end of the semester, wanting to know exactly what grade they have or what can be done to help them pass the course. This is then often followed up with the inevitable question of “Ok so…what should I study?” How do you avoid answering this over and over again? Head them off at the pass and either share a brief study guide on what will be on the final or review the upcoming final in class! Sharing the logistics of the final exam (multiple-choice, short answer, essay) can also help calm students’ anxiety and get them back to focusing on learning the material.

  1. Haggling for Grades – What’s Your Position?

With the power to evaluate student work comes great responsibility…and usually a lot of pleading.

Inevitably at the end of each semester, students will turn up, some confused, some upset, and a few whom you haven’t seen since that first week in January, and ask for you to help them out with their final grades. Some instructors have a very firm what’s final-is-final grading policy and others are more lenient in considering outside circumstances or extra credit opportunities. Whatever your stance might be, make sure to identify how you want to tackle these requests upfront. When you’re in the thick of grading and also trying to deal with pleading students, things can get chaotic and stressful. Having a game plan of saying either “no” or how you want to evaluate external circumstances can help save you time and make sure you’re consistent across all of your different sections and students.

  1. Dealing with Deadlines + Pressure from Students

As soon as those finals are turned in students will be asking (demanding?) their scores. For most faculty teaching a multitude of sections getting everything graded, particularly if your finals are writing-based, can be a huge challenge.

While not a perfect solution to keep the nagging at bay, let students know upfront when they can expect you to post or turn over their grades. Make sure to be realistic. If they took the exam on Monday and you have 4 other sections to grade, don’t tell them Tuesday-ish. Pad the amount of time you estimate you’ll need. Students are always happy to hear that their grades are up earlier than expected and putting a firm timeline out in front of them can help keep the questions and endless update requests at bay.

  1. Grading. So Much Grading.

Oh god the grading, right? At times it can seem endless (we feel for you English instructors!), but remember there is a light at the end of this tunnel.

If you’re swamped in an endless sea of grading papers or calculating up your grade book results, make sure to approach things in small chunks. Try organizing all of your work into small, more manageable tasks that you can check off. That sense of accomplishment means a lot when staring at a stack of papers on your desk.

Try also pairing your smaller chunks of work with small breaks or rewards to help you keep from feeling overwhelmed or too tired to continue. If you can, get away from your computer or that stack of blue books for even 10 minutes. Taking a walk, reading something for fun, or even watching a silly TV show can drastically improve your mood and make the grind of churning out student feedback and grades a little bit more bearable.

And remember, if nothing else, summer and a well-deserved break is almost here!...Except for those of you who are teaching summer classes. 🙂