Monday, May 19, 2014 at 1am

The Honor Code at UVA Reduces Typical Finals Week Stress

The Honor Code at UVA Reduces Typical Finals Week Stress main image

Archana Rao

You wake up from a nightmare. Shake yourself out of it. Skip breakfast because you feel sick already. You try to pick the outfit you think is your luckiest. Carry the pen you think serves you well. Follow all your superstitions, like not forgetting to make a wish and praying to God, promising three coconuts in the temple given a favorable outcome. You barely say a word to anyone for the fear of forgetting all the ones you crammed up the night before. All the way to the destination you think about everything else you could have done; how you wish you had put in more effort. You reach unfamiliarity. A massive intimidating hall room. Endless rows and columns of benches. You wonder how many others are going through this. You see a swarm of other YOUs. A big clock that tells you that it is time to fret. Blank walls all around you. Caving in ready to crush you. You walk along the alleys looking for your designated purgatory. And then you wait. Someone walks in with sheets of paper that will decide whether you have learnt anything at all this term. And you flip it open. Your mind goes blank. Palms start sweating. You wonder what is happening to you. Suddenly time seems to freeze despite the clock ticking away furiously…

If you still don’t know what I am talking about, you clearly never experienced the hell that is faced by millions of students all over the world during finals week! Thank your lucky stars and hope that you never feel this way.

The UVA finals week difference

Every exam I have taken in India has involved one or more of the elements listed above. And having had 16 years of formal education and having taken endless competitive exams, I am no stranger to the feelings reflected above. This is why I was a little confused when I heard during orientation that you can take exams ‘from home’ here at the UVA Darden School of Business. I thought it was a practical joke. How could you take exams form home?

I always assumed that a finals week was not a finals week unless you felt at experienced at least five of the above phenomena simultaneously. I believed that a test was not valid unless someone was invigilating over your head every minute to ensure that no one was indulging in malpractices. I thought that an assessment was not an assessment until it was conducted at a certain time, in an intimidating hall room, and in unfamiliar surroundings! All of these values, assumptions, beliefs and expectations were pleasantly shattered when I came to Darden School of Business!

You can take all your exams from anywhere and anytime! Yes anywhere! You could be half way across the world and still take them. You can take them from the comfort of your apartment (if the internet holds up), you can take them on a boat (as long as you are connected to the internet on it) or you could take it from Starbucks (as long as you keep ordering enough lattes and there is Wi-Fi).

Student run honor code works

So why do it this way? I thought a lot about this. First I thought that it was an ‘American thing’. But then I remembered a Britney Spears music video which showed exams being taken the traditional way. So it was not entirely an ‘American thing’. It was a UVA thing. UVA and Darden School of Business have an honor code which is completely student run and trusts its students to take the exam pledging, "On my honor, I pledge that I have neither given nor received help on this assignment." It is amazing how you are suddenly charged with immense trust and you know that it’s your duty to uphold it.

It reminds me of Spider-Man, “With great power comes great responsibility.” And suddenly you realize how comforting it is to know that you can cuddle up at your own desk at home with a mug of hot chocolate and a sandwich to take your assessment.

Goodbye stress, hello Darden School of Business term two

Slowly the gloomy thoughts of endless benches and caving-in fade away. It’s a good feeling to be finally assessed on what you really know and not scrutinized from head-to-toe.

There is definitely one downside to this. It doesn’t let you fully revel in the feeling of finishing finals week because there was no peripheral pressure to begin with. No wonder even after finishing all my term one papers, there is no feeling of “Yea! Its over!” The only feeling is that of “Okay, there is so much work that awaits me in term two…”

About Archana Rao

Archana Rao is pursuing an MBA at Darden and will spend the summer at the Boston Consulting Group in management consulting. Prior to this she was a Teach for India fellow, maximizing holistic student achievement and championing women empowerment in low income communities. She also worked in IT project management and corporate sustainability at the HSBC Bank post pursuing electronics and telecommunication engineering. She created a Post-it cartooning website and enjoys blogging.

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