Academics and Instruction Update: Prep Week and Final Exam Guidance (SVPP COVID-19 Communication #7)

April 14, 2020 

Spring 2020 Guidance on Prep Week and Final Exams

These updates to the Prep Week Policy and guidance on final exams are being provided to reflect the Spring 2020 academic environment created as a result of the Iowa State University coronavirus response.

Spring 2020 Prep Week (Formerly Dead Week) Policy

The overarching philosophy of the Prep Week policy remains the same for Spring 2020, as does the majority of the original policy language. The language has been updated with input from associate deans, department chairs, Faculty Senate, and CELT to reflect the unique circumstances of Spring 2020. Updated language is bolded below. The original policy is available in the Faculty Handbook Section 10.6.4. and on the SVPP website.  

Prep Week 

For each Fall and Spring semester, the last full week of classes before final examinations is designated as Prep Week. The intent of this policy is to establish a one-week period of substantial and predictable study time for undergraduate students. During the Prep Week period, regular lectures are expected to continue, including the introduction of new content, as deemed appropriate by the instructor. The restrictions established by this Prep Week policy for Spring 2020 are:

  • As a result of to the shift to virtual instruction, any change in due dates for mandatory graded submissions of any kind that fall within Prep Week should be communicated to the students by April 22nd
  • Mandatory final examinations may not be given during the Prep Week period except for laboratory courses or courses that meet weekly and for which there is no contact during the normal final examination week.
  • No quizzes or exams may be due on the Thursday and Friday of Prep Week. Online quizzes/exams covering material from the latter portion of the course (not a cumulative final exam) must: 1) open no later than Wednesday at noon of Prep Week, and 2) only cover material presented on or before the Tuesday of Prep Week. 
  • Recommendations related to final exams for Spring 2020 are provided below.

Exceptions to this policy include the following:

  • Classes that only meet on Thursdays or Fridays
  • Lab and studio components of courses
  • Half-semester courses
  • Make-up exams due to excused absences
  • Regularly used formative assessments intended to enhance student engagement and guide course delivery

All other exceptions require approval by the Office of the Senior Vice President and Provost

Spring 2020 Final Exams 

Each semester a final exam schedule is determined based on face-to-face class meeting schedules, and established to minimize students having multiple exams on a given day. 

Final exams are usually given in person during the allotted time established by the final exam schedule or using the Online Testing Center. These options are not available in Spring 2020. 

Because ISU does not have the technology to remotely proctor final exams in a manner that would mimic the monitored experience in a campus classroom, it is important for faculty to review their plans for final exams (timing, format, student’s ability to access online content, grading, etc.) Following the same policy as other semesters, all final grades must be submitted by the Tuesday after finals. The deadline this semester is 2:15 p.m. on Tuesday, May 12th. Given the implementation process of the temporary Pass/Not Pass policy, this deadline cannot be extended.  

Also keep in mind that there is considerable variation in the circumstances under which our students are completing this semester virtually including: living in multiple time zones, limited/variable internet access, and less than ideal work space. While we are not looking to restrict faculty discretion over how they assess student learning, we offer the following guidance to address current challenges.

Guidance for Spring 2020 Final Exams 

  • Spring 2020, faculty are not required to hold a class session during the scheduled final exam time
  • The synchronous (real-time), time-limited, exam format is highly discouraged this semester due to technology limitations, and accommodations that will be required for students who do not have the appropriate hardware. If faculty are planning this exam format, the exam must occur during the scheduled time outlined in the final exam schedule. Faculty must also ensure ALL students are able to participate in a synchronous exam, and have a make-up option if a student experiences a technology failure at that time. 
  • For faculty who are giving an online exam, the window during which students may access the final exam, must include the scheduled time from the final exam schedule (this includes scheduled night exams). A timeframe of 1-3 days of exam availability is strongly recommended. Within that availability timeframe, the time a student has to complete the exam can still be limited (e.g. students have 2 hours to complete the exam after they open it).
  • While faculty may not require a final exam be submitted before the regularly scheduled time on the final exam schedule, faculty may make the exam available before Finals Week, including during Prep Week.  
  • Consider other forms of a ‘final’ assessment.  For example, substituting a paper or project for a final exam; developing open-book, open-note exams; or creating an option for students to base their course grade on work completed up to the final exam (final exam optional).

Additional Considerations

  • Similar to other semesters, students will have multiple final exams (take-home and timed), final projects, or other cumulative assignments due during Finals Week. Consider focusing exams on key learning outcomes and concepts.
  • If timed exams are essential to assess learning outcomes in your course, be sure to review guidance about Canvas tools so you can provide academic accommodations for students whom you have a Student Accommodation Notification Letter from Student Accessibility Services.  
  • Include language that encourages academic integrity and sets expectations about this assessment being a student’s individual work, etc. This can remind students of their role in contributing to a positive learning environment described in the Student Code of Conduct (Dean of Students Office).
A curated list of remote assessment strategies has been developed by CELT to assist with spring 2020 virtual instruction needs.