Staff editorial: Finals week calls for cooperation

The last few weeks of each semester are laden with stress for everyone—more so than the already stressful, typical week in the life of a Washington University student. This is mostly due to the high-stakes exams, papers and projects that accumulate during finals. To a degree, this pressure is somewhat unavoidable: It’s called “finals week” for a reason, after all. But there’s one source of stress which stands to be eradicated across the board: Uncertainty about (pre-finals) grades.

For many students, knowing where they stand grade-wise going into finals can be a source of relief. Awareness of an existing grade and how much performance on a final assignment can help or hinder it, is crucial for students to know how well they need to score on their last assignments, and therefore to gauge how much time they need to put into a course, especially in relation to other stressful classes. Conversely, the understanding that they are already doing well in a class can release a lot of pressure and allow students to relax. Giving students the capacity to understand their current grade situation before finals, and how much they may be able to change it, is an invaluable tool.

Grade uncertainty can stem from undefined grading policies to ambiguous evaluations (What does that A- really mean, percentage-wise?) to grades that simply are not returned to students until far too late in the semester. Don’t get us wrong—many instructors do a fantastic job at laying out clear grade breakdowns and returning assignments in a timely manner. Students surely appreciate these professors, who make an effort to ease the seemingly never-ending stress.

Further exacerbating the problem is the lack of a cohesive grading system at Washington University. Of course, each school, department and professor is allowed some degree of flexibility in their personal grading policies. But the way those grades are presented varies to a confusing degree: Some classes use Blackboard; others return grades on a professor’s personal website; still others only hand grades back in person, sometimes without a quantitative score. Instructors should have a standardized system for returning grades to students across the board to make everyone’s lives easier. If Blackboard isn’t effective in this capacity, perhaps a new online system should be implemented, like Canvas, a popular alternative to Blackboard, which is older, perhaps outdated and frequently complained about.

In sum, professors updating grades in a clear and timely manner—specifically, all in one place and prior to reading week—would go a long way in reducing unneeded student stress during the already tense last bit of the semester. For the lowest stress finals period as possible, instructors should also be easy to reach by email and have clearly outlined grading policies available throughout the year. While some professors already do this, others don’t, and a little more effort to help students understand their grades prior to the final stretch of the semester would be immensely useful to keep finals from being unnecessarily stressful.