The square in front of the X sports centre slowly fills up with students from the Faculty of Aerospace Engineering. They group together – at a distance of one-and-a-half metres – to discuss how it went. It went “quite well” say Martijn and Bastiaan.
TU Delft is running a pilot this semester on on-campus exams. Over the last two weeks, hundreds of students from five faculties took ‘old-fashioned’ exams in a sports hall instead of at their computers at home. That said, the exams were not exactly as they used to be as the physical exams have to comply fully with RIVM (Netherlands National Institute for Public Health and the Environment) directives.
In total, physical exams were held for 20 subjects. Both faculties and the Central Student Council had stated that students preferred doing exams on campus to doing them at their computers at home.
For Martijn and Bastiaan, they had to get used to doing an exam in a sports hall again. “But once you start, it’s just like it used to be,” says Bastiaan. For Martijn, the biggest difference with online exams is that “I was more focused because of the invigilators and other students.” Bastiaan finds old-fashioned exams more relaxing. “I did not have the stress of wondering if there would be any problems with uploading the answers.”
Organising physical exams took quite a lot of effort, says Elizabeth Blokland of Education & Student Affairs (ESA). “We needed to take safety precautions at all sorts of levels to avoid spreading the virus,” she says. The tables, for example, are arranged to always maintain one-and-a-half metres’ distance. “So students do not get too close to others if they stand up and the invigilators have enough space to walk around among the tables.”
More distance, more halls
Given the large distance between the tables, the sports hall cannot hold as many people as it used to. This means that the students doing the same exam are spread across different halls. The process – arrival, handing out of the questions, delivering the exam answers and leaving – is different too. “Normally, everyone enters through the main entrance. We could not do this anymore.” Each hall had to have its own entrance to allow students and invigilators to enter the hall directly rather than going through the main entrance. Students were informed one day in advance which hall they were in. Before being allowed inside, TU Delft staff did a health test. “They had to answer a few health questions,” explains Blokland. The exam questions, covered with a red sheet to avoid cheating, were already on the tables as the students came in. When they were finished, the students handed their exam in to an invigilator behind Plexiglas.
The process was not only different for students, but for the teachers as well. They had to ensure that there were both physical exams and online exams available at the same time. Blokland: “Students with corona related symptoms must be able to do their exam without having to come to campus.” Joris Melkert, who teaches Structural Analysis & Design with Calvin Rans, put in a lot more time in ensuring that there were both physical exams and online exams. “It is good that students can do their exams on campus.”
Blokland and her colleagues also took other measures to ensure that everything proceeds safely and in compliance with the RIVM directives. These include the following.
- Students are required to disinfect their hands at the door.
- Students must wear a face mask if they want to ask questions.
- Invigilators must wear both a face mask and a face shield when answering students’ questions.
- Students may enter the hall 30 minutes in advance. This used to be 15 minutes.
- The presence of extra personnel, including stewards who point people in the right direction, invigilators and security staff.
- Students leave the hall one row at a time. Students who finish their exam before the prescribed time may leave the hall singly.
ESA took into account that 500 students may come for the Structural Analysis & Design exam. Everyone who signed up for the exam was sent a detailed email containing information and instructions.
Student Anton was seated in the hall 25 minutes before the start of the exam. It felt good, he says. “I could talk with my friends for a while and go through a few things before the exam started.” He too prefers doing exams on campus rather than at home at the laptop. “At home, you are in your own bubble and there are quite a lot of distractions. I have a guitar in the corner and, while I do not play it during exams, it is distracting. There is more pressure in a large hall with other students and this helps you focus.”
“Up to now, everything has gone well,” says Blokland. “It is good to see that everyone is obeying the rules.” One thing that struck her was that the number of students was not as high for every exam. “Some of the students did opt for the online exams.” According to Willem van Valkenburg, Chair of the Exam Taskforce, about 25% of students choose digital exams.
ESA will shortly evaluate all the physical exams. Students are also invited to share their thoughts in an evaluation form that they will receive by email. There may be physical exams for more subjects in the next semester’s (Q3) exam period says Blokland. “We will make the space and the support available. Whether the faculties wish to use these, is up to them.”
Student Patrick, whose exam “could have gone better”, would be happy if on campus exams were held again. “I did not have any problems while doing exams online, but if they are held on campus again, I would definitely sign up.”
Marjolein van der Veldt / Annebelle de Bruijn