it is only an exam (that counts for your entire grade)

Tonight I sat on my balcony, grading exams while enjoying the warm and sunny evening.

photo (28)

I’m in countdown mode to my summer vacation, but can’t complain about working late tonight as I just got back from a mini-vacation in Budapest. Grading sessions are so much more productive at home anyway.

As always in academia, the end of the semester is rough. I have 80 exams to grade before Friday. Exams that are written in Norwegian. I’m halfway done. And I really hope the second half goes faster than the first!

While I only have 2 American universities to compare it to, the exam procedures in Norway are certainly different from what I am used to. This semester I not only gave an exam (in the course I teach) but took an exam (my Norwegian class is a full-fledged university course).

From the teacher perspective I found the whole experience to be rather stressful, and I wasn’t even taking the exam. First, final exams here (and in most of Europe, I believe) count for a significant part of the students’ grade for the course, and in some cases the entire grade. So it is a rather serious and structured procedure. A week before the exam I had to submit it to the examination office, who would then make copies and distribute to all the students on exam day. The exam had to be written in 2 different languages – Bokmål and Nynorsk (2 official versions of Norwegian, I obviously got help with this) and checked by someone else in my department. As things have been quite busy, I spent right up to the deadline working on writing the exam and felt a bit wary that everything was A-OK with the questions when I turned it in. But at least it was in, and I didn’t have to think about it for a week.

But then came exam day…

Exams are administered completely different here (although maybe not so different as a course with 300 students at an American university – I just never took a course so big). The majority of students take their exams in a building that is a concert/event space. Retirees serve as proctors (it is actually really cute!) and professors only show up twice during the 4 hour exam to answer any questions. Students from multiple courses are in the same room.

As I said, it is all very formal and structured. And there is very little flexibility. A student of mine broke her hand and is unable to write. I suggested she ask if she could use a computer to take the exam but she was told that she needed to register to use a computer back in February… (instead she will take an oral exam in August along with the others who fail and need to retake the exam).

My students were spread out in 4 different locations around campus. There were the “normal” students, and a few students that had combinations of additional amounts of time and use of a computer to address different learning and physical challenges. This meant that it took over an hour to make each round (in the rain – first day it had rained in weeks).

And of course there were 2 little mistakes. Nothing major at all. In previous (US) exam settings, you could just write the correction on the board and say something aloud. But in this setting, I had to go back to my office, type up a correction and bring it back to distribute to the students. By this point it was close to 3 hours into the exam and many people had left. It is not the biggest problem in the world, but just an extra hassle to deal with (answering questions after the fact about it and adjusting my grading to compensate for it).

So, in a nutshell, the whole exam experience was filled with frustration, but I think it is just something that I have to/will adjust to over time. The good news is that I’ve survived my first semester of teaching – after a few more hours of grading, of course! It can only get easier from here (I hope!).

{And about my exam: I take my Norwegian classes at the university, and while they are good and cheap (not that I pay for them), they are a lot of work and have an intensive final exam at the end. I was prepared (enough) but learning a new language means learning SO MANY WORDS! I can still remember all the lyrics from songs I used to listen to in high school, but struggle to keep straight all the conjugations of å ligge, å legge, å sitte, å sette (to lie, to lay, to sit, to set…). Our exam consists of an oral part where we have to have a conversation with our teacher, and then a dictation (where we listen to a text and write down what we hear), grammar section, and essay. I’m glad it is over, but now the challenge is to keep up with my learning over the summer to be prepared for the next level.}

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One Response to it is only an exam (that counts for your entire grade)

  1. Congrats on finishing (almost)! Just reading your post stressed me out!

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