Students and professors navigate exam accommodations amid COVID-19 surge on campus


Daily file illustration by Catherine Buchaniec

Some students in quarantine have said they have received inadequate support when trying to take exams remotely.

Kaitlin Bender-Thomas, Reporter

With the recent surge of COVID-19 cases on campus, some students have not been able to attend their midterm exams and have reported inadequate accommodations from their classes.

Northwestern’s COVID-19 positivity rate soared to 9.28% on May 13, the highest since the start of the pandemic with campus open to full capacity. As students request to take their exams in isolation, different departments have offered varied accommodations. 

Weinberg freshman Sarah Abara tested positive just four days before her second multivariable calculus midterm. After emailing her professor to find accommodations, she learned she could not make up the exam or take it online.

Instead, her professor said the grade weight of the midterm would be shifted to the final exam, making the final exam worth 50% of her grade instead of the original 30%.

Abara said the first midterm was “awful” for her because she scored below the average which made her feel like she was lacking as a student. She said she spent several hours studying for the second one and looked forward to performing better to reduce the anxiety she would feel on the final exam.

“I feel so much pressure now to just turn up so much brain power and work and studying into this final,” Abara said. “The pressure is honestly enough for me to go to (Counseling and Psychological Services).” 

Weinberg Prof. Thomas Hille, who teaches Abara’s multivariable calculus class this quarter, said he is abiding by the Math Department’s policy.

Hille said it does put more pressure on students, but he recommends they attend office hours for additional help. 

“The other question to ask is, ‘What other possibilities could we think of offering?’” Hille said. “In the view of all, this is probably the best policy. It’s the least draconian policy that I can think of.”

McCormick freshman Catherine London, who is also in quarantine, said her professor let her take her Engineering Analysis midterm online. However, she still has to retake it in person in a different format after she gets out of quarantine. 

The two exams will be compared to determine her final midterm grade. Although London said it is a bit annoying to take two midterms, she is relieved the exam’s weight will not increase.

Chemistry Prof. Veronica Berns said she gives students in quarantine the opportunity to take exams online at the same time as everyone else. Students taking the exam online must use the LockDown Browser and a separate device to monitor their workspace.

Berns said the proctoring system is complicated, but it is only to ensure everyone is safe and has a fair opportunity. 

Abara emphasized she should not feel anxious to take an exam due to something that is out of her control.

“We obviously live in a pandemic, and things are going to happen,” Abara said. “We can’t just have strict, unyielding policies like what the math department is doing because anything could happen at any moment.”

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