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In-Person Exams Make a Comeback


It was around this time two years ago that I took my last in-person exam in college. Since then we’ve wrangled with various methods of test administration: proctoring via Zoom, open-note tests, 24-hour windows, and more. These new methods brought their own slew of quirks too: buggy software losing students’ answers, cheating increasing 200%, students being forced to install spyware that monitors their exam environment, to name a few.

However, as the United States re-declares its victory over the pandemic and shifts the goalposts, college has also started returning to its old ways. As a result, I’ve had the good fortune of taking some exams in person again. I felt I had to document my thoughts during this momentous occasion.


Preparation in the run up to my exams was nothing out of the ordinary. I tried my best to not lose a lot of sleep (this worked until we moved back to DST) and brushed over old lectures and notes. I also recalled that I have a pair of lucky socks I wore to exams back in the day, so I went on a hunt for them.

The only reason I consider this pair of socks “lucky” is because they’re differently colored from my boring set of monotone Hanes™ anklets. I also got them for free at a career fair (guess the company). I think the socks mostly ensure that I leave the exam with a passing grade; anything above that is a cherry on top. Just the artificial confidence boost from wearing this distinct pair of socks is great.

I did end up finding my lucky socks and wore them to my exams. We’ll find out if they still brought good fortune.

The Air of Tension

I’d also forgotten what the “air of tension” feels like in an exam room. Toning down your voice prior to the exam; making sure you don’t accidentally have prohibited material in possession; sitting apart from everyone (although I guess social distancing has made this less awkward); having your final laugh before being beaten up by the exam you’re about to take.

I’m a big fan of the person who broke the tension prior to our distributed systems midterm by asking our TA, “what’s a passing grade in this class?”.

To Hydrate or Dehydrate

I always have to strike the right balance between dehydration and hydration before and during an exam. A lot of exams end up being time-constrained so bathroom breaks are impossible. However, I also want my brain to be running and that requires frequent hydration.

Being pumped with not only caffeine but also adrenaline during an exam creates an interesting mix of “to pee or not to pee”, “do I really need more water”, and “but my mouth feels dry” feelings.

On Being Watched

Thankfully, the College of Engineering at Michigan does not use live proctors during exams. This means I no longer have to do the stare-at-the-ceiling-so-you-don’t-make-eye-contact dance with anyone. I also don’t have to feel embarassed about a proctor looking at my (likely wrong) answers.

In writing this I also recalled tales of a legendary geography teacher from my high school. Amongst other quirks, if you finished a geography exam early, he’d grade your exam on the spot before you left the exam room. It’s unclear how many hearts and minds he broke this way.

Overall, it’s Fun

I’ve continually reminded myself to not take life so seriously over the last few years, so such episodes are great moments to “zoom out” and simply have fun in the moment. If you were sitting next to me during an exam and heard me laughing, this was probably it.

I realize I likely won’t be taking many more exams for the rest of my life, so I’m going to cherish the few moments I have remaining. Regardless of how annoying the run up to an exam feels, it’s a unique and fun experience. I’ll probably write about my “grand philosophy” on the importance (or lack thereof) of exams after I’ve graduated.

Alexa, remind me to update this post once grades are released.

~ Amal