Editorial | Dec. 12

Editorial: Returning final exams

It is an all too frequent occurrence in Princeton courses that professors do not return final exams and papers even after final course grades have been posted. This practice reduces the transparency and accountability of course grading and deprives students of valuable feedback. Therefore, the Editorial Board believes that it would best serve the educational mission of this University to implement a policy requiring faculty to return graded final exams and papers to students at the end of each semester after grades are posted.
First, a policy mandating that final papers and exams be returned enhances the accountability of the grading process. When, at the end of the semester, students are only able to see a final course grade posted on SCORE, there is no assurance that their papers and exams have been fairly and thoroughly graded. The proposed policy would ensure that students are able to at least see their exam scores and what questions they got wrong or their final paper grades and any written comments, thus holding professors and preceptors at least minimally accountable in their grading practices.
Second, the proposed policy makes it possible for more students to avail themselves of the opportunity to ask for re-grading. The board believes that the opportunity to request re-grading of papers and exams in an important procedure that helps to maintain the fairness and accuracy of grading. Professors and preceptors grading an exam may make mistakes, questions can be poorly phrased or a paper may be hastily misread. Students can only avail themselves of the opportunity for re-grading if they are able to see their exams and papers and dispute any potential grading mistakes. The board believes that the benefit of allowing students to ask professors to rectify mistakes that occur in grading outweighs any potential concerns about abuse of this system.
Lastly, a policy requiring final exams and papers to be returned is important in providing students with feedback that helps them to learn from their evaluations. There are clear educational benefits to students of understanding what questions they missed on an exam or learning the strengths and weaknesses of their final paper. While feedback is important throughout the semester, it is particularly significant for final assignments, which are often culminations of students’ learning throughout the course. Without a policy mandating that final exams and papers be returned, students too often do not receive any feedback and are prevented from learning as much as they could.
In terms of implementation, the board believes that the University should either mandate that all exams and papers be returned or that exams and papers must be returned at the request of any student in the course. Students should be able to receive their finals as soon as possible after the end of finals period. Recognizing that some professors may reuse exam questions, the board believes it may be prudent for students in some courses to be allowed to see their graded exams for a period of time but not be allowed to keep them. The board further believes that the benefits that accrue from allowing students to review their exams exceed the costs of perhaps compelling certain professors to create new exams each year. In the spring semester, when students may return home before exams and papers are graded, professors and their departments should make reasonable attempts to return finals electronically or by mail, if requested — though exceptions would obviously apply to exams with questions that may be reused. All in all, such a policy would further Princeton’s educational mission by increasing academic feedback and making grading more accountable.

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