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10-13-21-in-person-class-exam-savannah-cohen
Students adapted their learning style with the return of in-person classes and exams. Credit: Savanna Cohen

With the return of in-person classes this fall came the return of in-person exams — which students said have led them to adapt their studying and test-taking strategies.

Both first years and sophomores are taking their first set of in-person midterms this semester, as sophomores took their exams online last year. Sophomores said in-person exams often have stricter time constraints and require more memorization compared to online exams, which were often open-note. 

Students said they have adapted the way they study for exams since the switch to in-person learning. While open-note, online exams required students to organize their notes efficiently, students must now focus more on memorization. 

“I felt a lot more stress trying to study as much as possible this semester instead of just summarizing and reorganizing my notes,” College sophomore Juliana Yu said. 

Engineering sophomore Mei Han added that she had to put in more effort this semester to make sure that she remembered certain formulas and problem-solving methods since she couldn’t depend on her notes. 

“I prefer online exams more since I get to engage more with the material under less pressure,” Yu said.

Yu’s first in-person exam was for CIS 160: Mathematical Foundations of Computer Science before fall break. The closed-note exam took place during the 90-minute class period without any technology. Yu noted that the type of questions on the exam felt easier than those from previous online exams, speculating that the professors lowered the difficulty of in-person because students were unable to use notes.

But for College sophomore Simran Rajpal, who recently took several exams in-person, questions on exams this semester seem more applicable to real-world scenarios and therefore require her to think more deeply.

Even when in-person exams were open-note, students said the small desks in many lecture halls made it difficult to view all of one's notes while working on the exam.

Engineering sophomore Tyler Edwards took the NETS 212: Scalable and Cloud Computing midterm exam on Oct. 7 in a lecture hall in David Rittenhouse Laboratories, where he said he had to put his notes on his lap while he wrote the exam on his desk. He added, however, that despite concerns about limited space, he was happy to take his exam in person.

Some students said they prefer in-person exams because sitting in a lecture hall and taking an exam surrounded by classmates makes the exam feel less daunting.

“It’s fun to walk out of the exam with my classmates and celebrate being done and having a communal sense of accomplishment,” Han said. 

Some students also prefer in-person exams because there is no chance of technology challenges arising mid-exam. 

Wharton first year Sriya Koganti said that taking exams in person was easier than taking exams online during her senior year of high school when she had to worry about Wi-Fi connectivity issues.

During the online semesters, many students alleged a pervasive increase in cheating among Penn students since the pandemic. The Office of Student Conduct similarly reported a 72% increase in cheating case investigations from the 2018-2019 to 2019-2020 academic year.

On the bright side, Han said having in-person exams makes the world seem like it’s getting back to normal and is a good sign.

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