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December 09, 2004



all of your concerns are valid, particularly the third one (they will spend every last second on it). in fact, after surveying fellow students/graduates - they all said to a person that take homes were unpleasant because when graded on the curve and knowing everyone has 24 hours, there is tremendous pressure to work on it even more, to the detriment of other tests. the first concern is the least, because all students have access through the law library computer lab, although it costs $$ to print, but not much.

other issues:
1) greater risk of plagiarism (sp?) - i.e., collaboration, etc.
2) less likely to study material if think they have more time - thus will learn less of the material for the long term

ALSO - your main goal - better handwriting might be able to be attained if Iowa would catch up with the technology curve and let students use laptops to take exams.


As an adult college student, I would likely be at an extreme disadvantage with a 24 hour take home test. I live 40 minutes from campus. That almost two hours right there including walking to the room to pick up/drop off my exam. I have a 17 month old, which means I can't put off feeding, bathing, etc, just because I have an exam. Let's call that 4 hours. Although I spend more time than that with my son, there are times when I can work while hes playing cntently by himself. I have a full-time job, which takes away about 11 hours, including the standard 8 hour day, driving to-and-fro, loitering at the day care provider's house, and lunch, which usually consists of a meeting someone couldn't get in during the normal work day. And I need a minimum of four hours sleep or else I'm nuts. In a 24 hour period, I might have about 3 hours time to complete the exam, so I'm no better off than if I sat in class and took the three hour exam.
But that's me.


As a law student, I always hated take-home exams. I much preferred simply to get the test over with and be done with it. B/c of this feeling, I probably did not put in as much time as many of my classmates did on take-homes (I think the longest I ever worked on one was maybe 8 hours in a 24-hour period), so maybe I was better off in the end. While I may have felt somewhat guilty for not putting in the time, I was pretty well rested. In any case, I'm not really sure having all the extra time really made much of a difference in any case, b/c I generally stuck with the answers I came up with at the outset, and just used the extra time to polish, etc.


Stef--if you could share any insights on how to get a child to play contently by himself, I would appreciate it.


#1, while a good point, isn't really that big of a concern, because, as you said, pretty much every student has access to a computer either at home or through the law school itself, though computer labs are often crowded at exam time.

#2 can be abated with the process several professors of mine had, which was "sign out your exam any time during the exam period during normal business hours M-Th. Sign the exam back in within 24 hours." This lets a person choose when they want those 24 hours, be it because of other exams, family issues, etc.

#3 is a very good point, and there's no way around it, but as you point out (and I agree) more than 3-4 hours on an exam really doesn't help you.

Most of my exams both in law school and undergrad were take-home, though it was a little more common in undergrad because I went to a school with a very strict Honor Code, which meant exams were usually passed out and then we just dropped them off three hours later. We could take them in the computer lab, in our dorm room, at a local bar, or anywhere we wanted, as long as we abided by the rules set by the professor.


My two cents:

1) Given the computers in the law library and elsewhere on campus, I think you can safely assume everyone has access to a computer. If not, it can be handwritten.

2) and 3) Seem like corrollary points to me - how much time will a given student spend on the test? Will they feel compelled to spend 8 hours because they have a 24-hour period? Or will they feel disadvantaged because they can't spend the 8 hours because of family commitments? I feel that both these are somewhat valid concerns: yes, having been there and done that, you do feel pressure to pull an all-nighter on the test. You wonder who else has spent what kind of time on it, and whether you will have measured up. On the other hand, you have other tests to study for. You generally have some form of employment commitment to fulfill, and possibly a relationship with some sort of significant other to sustain (though I felt all bets were off during finals and the bar exam). So no one will be spending 24 hours on the test. Is is unfair to those with a family? Not any more so than it is to those with a job, or two finals the same week. I don't think you can take away all the factors that can disadvantage people.

4) I need to make a slight disclaimer: I only got to take two take-home exams during my entire time there at UI, and I LOVED them. My grades were significantly higher, because I didn't have the time pressure that caused me to panic during most normal exams. I could, and did, treat it like a paper. As an English undergrad, papers were my *thing*. I could DO them. And while most people said the in-class thing was to test your ability to think under pressure, aren't most briefs and motions actually done more like take-homes?

Anyway, that's my rambling take on it.


Usually, I prefer the three hour exams because they are much shorter and the expectations of the professors are generally lower (because of the time constraints). As a student, I'd prefer to "get it over with" in a 3-hour block rather than drag it for a whole 8-hours, or worse, a full 24-hours.

Personally, I disdain take home exams, for the very reason that I know classmates will spend 100% of the time on the exam while I generally "give up" at around the 6 hour mark. As a 1L, I had one 8-hour "take home" where most people just stayed in the library because students were afraid of eating up too much of their time commuting. In fact, some people didn't even get up out of their seats during that time for ANY reason.

Perhaps a 24-hour exam might alleviate some of these concerns, but as a student I feel like there's less an expectation of an exam at that point and more of an expectation of a paper being written within a day.

Plus, from the professor's angle, with a 3-hour exam you'll have less to grade... =P


The time factor is important, I think. Given enough time, even the ones who did little preparation and have a meagre appreciation for the subject will be able to scrape enough words together to satisfy the question.

But real life does not give you that much time. You have to be prepared, you have to have a good grasp of the subject and you have to be able to think on your feet and know which cases to reference and which would be most relevant to the issue at hand.

Plus, 3 hour in-class exams remove the temptation to collude, confer, whatever you want to call it.

Re: the handwriting issue. The school should be providing el-cheapo laptops for exams. When our organization discovered that there were 250 386's sitting in a warehouse, brand new but now trailing edge technology, they loaded them up with a word processing program and made them available for note-taking and exams. No temptation to steal them; practically useless except for word processing.

And easier on the prof's eyes and temper.


I bet as a professor you have already acquired a nose for when someone has reached the end of their knowledge and is blowing smoke, so why encourage that behavior by giving more time? If it is an analysis-based problem, there's a point at which all discussion options have been exhausted. Giving more time beyond that is begging students to add things that don't relate or give too much information.

I second the advice that the law school get with the times. Here at this law school, laptops were required, and all in-class exams have the option of being taken with ExamSoft (about 4-5% still handwrite).

#3 is my main reason I wish all my professors would do in class exams. I like to know when I'm done.

A. Rickey

Prof. Yin:

My one take-home exam thus far in law school was hell on toast. A 24-hour take-home, I literally worked 22 of the 24 hours on it. I do think the extra time helps: I spent the last four not really making any new substantive argument, but polishing, editing, and making sure that there weren't any "annoyances" to distract the Prof from my points. That old saying that "Great papers aren't written, they're edited" doesn't apply any less for exams: if you can spend the extra time, all else equal the product will be better, and if you're on a brutal curve, that will count.

I really don't think a take-home is an act of mercy in any way, whatever the justification.

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