March 16 Day 738: Finals Reflections

I have been administering oral final examinations over the last two days. Compared to previous quarters, when I had double (or quadruple) the students to manage, it was down right pleasant.

The process hasn’t changed except that I administer the interviews in person rather than remotely through Zoom. I noticed more than ever before that the pandemic has taken a huge toll.

Students are overwhelmed, distracted, and don’t want to or don’t know how to focus and study. Do they think that just showing up is enough? Is that the lesson they have taken from their pandemic experience?

The point of receiving the questions in advance is to prepare. Limiting the interview to 25 minutes also requires preparation (and practice) or else they will not complete the tasks in the allotted time.

Did they prepare? Not exactly.

If they had read the instructions that accompanied the questions, they would have learned there was the option to bring a 3×5 card (one-side only) with definitions. No answers or solutions—only definitions. I find when students are nervous or get stuck, asking for related definitions is a good way to move them in the right direction. I was disappointed when students came without a prepared card and did not know critical definitions. Less than one quarter of the students came with a properly prepared note card.

Did they solve the problems before hand? Yes with help.

And for a fleeting moment, they knew how to solve each problem—or at least most problems. But mimicking solutions is not the same as understanding solutions.

Did they want to succeed? Absolutely.

Did I tell them what to do to succeed? I thought so.

So where is the disconnect?

Showing up is not enough. Mimicking is not enough. A deeper understanding takes work and focus. No one can do that for you except yourself.

Published by Jenny Quinn

Mathematician. Mother. Wife. Leader. I am a professor of mathematics at the University of Washington Tacoma. Mother of Anson and Zachary. Wife to Mark. President of the Mathematical Association of America.

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