Photo by Kyle West

For students worrying about one 50 per cent weighted exam determining whether they pass or fail, there may be help coming in the future. The McMaster Students Union university affairs committee has begun their advocacy efforts to push to eliminate “high-risk” exams worth 50 per cent or more of a student’s grade.

This goal was outlined in the 2017-2018 MSU academic success policy paper but has been actively taken up this year by the University Affairs committee, headed by associate vice president (University Affairs) Tasneem Warwani. It is part of a broader initiative to review “academic services.”

As it stands, there is no official McMaster policy capping the weight of an exam. The committee is concerned that heavily-weighted assessments can be increasingly stressful for students and do not set students up for success.

“You can do phenomenally throughout the semester and then you can have something happen,” Warwani said. “If you do so well throughout the semester and then you are writing a 70 per cent exam and you just crash and burn during the exam, it does not make sense that you should fail entirely based on that.”

The Student Representative Assembly engineering caucus is also working to eliminate high-risk exams for engineering students. However, the university affairs committee is aiming for a university-wide policy.

High-risk exams sometimes occur when students use their McMaster Student Absence Form for an assignment or midterm, and the re-weighting makes the final exam “high-risk.” Under the accommodation section, the McMaster Undergraduate Course Management Policies recommends that an instructor should seek approval before re-weighting one assessment to 75 per cent or more.

The University Affairs committee ultimately wants to see a hard cap at 50 per cent, even in MSAF cases. Warwani suggested other alternatives to shifting weight to a final exam, such as rewriting an evaluation, should be more standardized.

Warwani acknowledges that professors often have legitimate reasons for being reluctant to reschedule missed tests.

“There are lots of things that might be a little bit more difficult to do but if it means that our students are succeeding from it, then I think that we should be moving towards those,” Warwani said. “I am hopeful that we can find some sort of middle ground.”

Warwani said that one situation where a high-risk exam could be acceptable is in a structure with different weighing options where the professor weighs exams more heavily only if it results in a higher grade for a student.

The university affairs committee also aims to work towards having more specific standardized MSAF policies on course outlines. Warwani believes that if the outlines are clearer on how and when accommodations will be provided in the case of MSAFs, students and professors will be better off, and students will not be uncertain about whether an MSAF now will mean writing a high-risk exam later.

Currently, the committee is still researching the issue to determine which faculties are most affected and to what extent. They plan to release an online “info pack” document on the issue for students in the next couple of months. From there, they will begin formally consulting with university administration and faculty coordinators to move from advocacy to potential policy.

For any sort of policy to be considered, the issue must be discussed first in the university senate. The process of advocating for the elimination of high-risk exams is a big project for the committee and has only just begun.

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