Projects vs. exams: The different ways Boise State students are evaluated


High-stakes assignments are on the minds of most Boise State students and faculty as the end of the semester quickly approaches. As the library becomes increasingly packed with studiers and printer lines weave longer and longer, campus prepares for the gamut of different ways professors and instructors have decided to test the comprehensive knowledge of their students. Though some majors have more cohesive class structures, students experience radically different ways of assessing their retention of knowledge in a course. 

“I traditionally prefer projects, and I generally require them to be an open-genre project for most of my classes,” said Carrie Seymour, lecturer in the English department. 

Seymour said that open-genre is her approach to allowing students to express the way they have understood the materials presented in the class. By doing this, she hopes to eliminate a prioritization of one student’s background over another’s. 

“The goal for me, especially in end-of-the-semester evaluation, is to give the student the opportunity to shine in whatever way they’re most comfortable,” Seymour said. “I find that if I give an essay and a short answer exam, then if the student struggles in one way, they can make up for it in another way.” 

Though certain majors allow for a more diverse approach to evaluation, some departments are more rigid in how students’ work is graded. For Meredith Hatten, a sophomore pre-nursing student, a semester made up of perpetual exams is often the norm. 

“For me, I haven’t had too many final projects; I think I’ve only had two final projects for the classes I take. I take mostly tests,” Hatten said. “I prefer tests because I feel like you know what to study for. I’m used to taking tests, and I kinda know how I’m doing okay or not. You can gauge if you’re doing well. I feel like a project is a little more up in the air. Also if it’s a group project, you have to rely on other people, and I don’t know if I necessarily like that.” 

Because exams are much more direct in their approach to gauging knowledge, Hatten said  she feels more comfortable being able to study for them and in control of the outcome. However, being in a program that relies heavily on tests means that studying is an incessant process. 

“Every week this semester I pretty much had a test. For one class I’ll study for my test, and the next week, I study only for another test, and then I’ll have a test for the lab,” Hatten said. “I feel like I have to put it all in for one class and ignore all my other classes just for a test.” 

Because of this design, Hatten’s retention of information is sometimes only as long as she needs it for a test, and not something she contextualizes for the long run. For Annalies Tipton, a junior studying material science and engineering, being able to work with material outside of exams is crucial to remember important information. 

“I have two classes: In one class, all we do is every week we do one homework assignment, and it has 4 problems on it, and it takes anywhere from 6-10 hours depending on how complex the material is that week, and I have no idea what’s going on,” Tipton said. “In another class we do activities, and we have to collaborate on all the activities. We each have a role, and she just does a collaborative thing the whole time.” 

The collaborative class works much better for Tipton, and she feels she can engage with the material much better. She explained that working with others in this class has helped her understand the broader scope of the class and its application as well. 

“I feel like engineers have to collaborate; everything you do is in collaboration,” Tipton said. 

As finals week creeps up on Boise State students and faculty, each person in the classroom is left to contemplate what they know, and how best to represent that knowledge. By taking deliberate and considered approaches to quantify the learning of their students, faculty embrace the varying backgrounds of students, and set them up for making it to the next semester and, eventually, the next step of their lives.


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