After finals week, most Wellesley students want to forget about their classes, hide their books under their beds and get an infinite amount of sleep. They (hopefully) push grades and GPAs to the back of their minds until January. In January, after being happy, satisfied or disappointed with their grades, most students concentrate on plans for the upcoming semester and shift their attention to a new set of courses. Wellesley’s long Wintersession allows students to engage in programs, classes, jobs and leisure time, all of which push final exams further back in their heads. But in this time, students often forget about their final exams and few end up speaking with professors about the work they did at the end of the previous semester.
Given how much time Wellesley students put into studying for final exams and writing final papers, it’s surprising that the College does not require professors to return final exams and papers with comments, as they would with any other assignment during the year. Nor are they required to set aside office hours at the beginning of the following semester for students to drop by and see their final exams and ask questions. Some professors do return exams and papers, and professors’ office hours are always open to previous students, but the College should establish a clear, comprehensive policy on final exam feedback in alliance with its liberal arts mission.
Many Wellesley students are not aware that they can email professors to see their graded final exams after they return from break. Even if they are, some may become apprehensive or apathetic about last semester’s results, which have already been determined. Others are concerned that even if they do ask, professors will think that they’re just coming in to complain about or dispute a grade. Receiving papers and exams back allows students to see how their final grade was determined and to keep professors accountable to them.
The current policy unintentionally suggests that the goal of a course is to complete it, and that the semester can and should be forgotten once it is finished. However, final papers and exams are often cumulative through semesters. That is, students in intro-level classes taking further courses in the department can benefit from knowing how their finals were evaluated. Certain concepts they have struggled with in the past should become areas of focus in the following semester. And, in general, a policy that would allow students to get more feedback on final exams and papers would be in line with Wellesley’s emphasis on lifelong learning, critical thinking and idea synthesis, rather than completion. This would also refocus attention onto the learning process and shift the spotlight way from final course grades on transcripts.
Wellesley should encourage or even require that professors return final exams and papers with feedback, either by mail or by email. Professors who give final exams should notify past students of when their office hours are for the new semester and when a good time might be for students to ask questions about their finals. Similarly, students who care about their own education should also express interest in communication about final exam grades rather than merely leaving their grades in the past.
While there is currently no such provision in place, students should ask their professors for feedback on their final exams during these first few weeks of the semester. This would bring closure to last semester before we progress into the new one.