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I am currently studying computer science in a University in Canada.

I have just received my Schedule for the semester, and I have noticed that, during the finals week, 3 of my 6 courses put their final exams in the same day.

Specifically, I have an exam from 12:30 to 15:20, another one from 15:30 to 18:20 and the last one is from 18:30 to 21:20. All three of those exams are Worth 35% or more of my grade, therefore are very likely to be decisive in my success or failure this semester.

This really seems unreasonable to me. I do not expect, no matter how much sleep I get and how much coffee I drink, to be able to perform at my best for 9 hours straight, without even a chance to eat dinner.

So I have two questions: First, is this standard practice? I'm only starting my second semester, so maybe I just got Lucky the first time that all my exams were the only one of the day.

And Second, if this is not standard but rather a very unlucky setup, do I have any recourse? Is it rude to ask some of the professors or higher-ups in the school to change the Schedule a little?

It is also important to know that I am taking the classes in the standard path (? I am not a native English speaker, but I am referring to the grid thing telling me the recommended courses to take every semester in order to complete the program in the fewest number of semesters) for my program. I am not taking any special classes that are not expected to be taken at the same time. This means that a lot of people probably have this exact Schedule for this semester, and it's not just me because I made weird choices.

EDIT: Thank you all for your input. I will accept one of the answers now, but to be honest, they were all pretty enlightening. I had already sent an email to all concerned professors AND the faculty 5 days prior to asking this question, and I still haven't received an answer. I will probably forward the same email (it is as polite as possible, asking about what are my options in the context, etc) to some more administration adresses in the hopes that someone can give me the exact policy, or at least tell me who can.

I am very glad that everyone seems to agree that they can usually do something about it, this makes me less stressed. In the worst case, nothing changes, and as one answer mentioned, if lots of students have a worse grade because of this setup, then the playing field is even.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – StrongBad Jan 11 '17 at 14:50
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    Sounds like ryerson, I assure you by the end of the second exam you will have trouble reading and understanding a sentence. I pray for you that your last exam is all multiple choice so that you can guess all your answers and hope for the best. – Marcin Deszczynski Jan 11 '17 at 21:42
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    By the way, I think the English word you couldn't think of is progression. Or at least that's the one I've usually heard. E.g. the "standard progression of courses for history majors" refers to the classes that all history majors are expected to take, at the typical times for them to do so. – David Z Jan 12 '17 at 4:12
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    @Ryan please only use the comments to ask for more information or to suggest improvements. If you had posted an answer, I could downvote it and explain my strong disagreement in a comment; but it's a comment, and if I reply and start an "extended discussion in comments" the mods will remove the comments and kick us out to chat - and rightly so. – ANeves Jan 12 '17 at 5:35
  • It might be a good idea to talk to your classmates and verify that there are a bunch of folks in the same situation, to eliminate need for speculation in forums like this or conversations with appropriate folks at the university. – WBT Jan 12 '17 at 16:42
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Whether this is a standard practice or not highly depends on your university. However, the attribution of these exam period is an automated process and some situations like yours are bound to happen.

If I were you, I would consult the specific rules of your University. I know at that my previous Canadian University in Montreal (École Polytechnique), there was a rule that limited the amount of exam hours you could have in a 24 hours period, ( I believe it was 6 maximum per day). If such a thing occurred, you could ask for the exam to be moved as this was judged to be unfair.

You can also consult with your student committee (of your department or your faculty) and your department since you say that you are following a standard path. In that case, there will be many students in the same situation and they should prove to be understanding. The student committee can usually present a uniform front and defend the entire class as a whole concerning this issue. There is absolutely nothing impolite about this if you proceed politely and you act as soon as the semester begins. The sooner you handle this issue, the easier it will be to solve.

I believe you are right in saying that this will not allow you to perform to your full potential, and you are right to ask for a more humane schedule.

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    I would add that in all likelihood your instructors are your allies in this situation, and probably your most powerful allies. I cannot imagine that they are happy with this situation, and they are probably in the best position to change this. So when approaching them, approach them as potential allies rather than potential enemies. – Maarten Buis Jan 10 '17 at 15:21
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    Also bringing this up (with the instructors or faculty) at the start of the semester is much more likely to yield good results than waiting until a couple days before the exams! – aslum Jan 10 '17 at 17:58
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    @Ian Scheduling with constraints is computattionally hard in a theoretical sense. A given set of constraints may not even admit a valid schedule, or finding such a schedule may take more time than is available to compute it. It's quite probable the school generates the best schedule it can, with as few problems as possible, leaving it to students and their professors to deal with those as necessary or needed. – chepner Jan 10 '17 at 20:14
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    @Ian "it MUST be that the university does not care, otherwise they would have brought the software to stop the problem happening." More likely, the university does care, and has decided that the option with the best cost-benefit is to resolve these manually. At my university, if you had more than two exams in a day, you'd contact the appropriate people, and would have the extras rescheduled. That's hardly "not caring". – Joshua Taylor Jan 10 '17 at 21:24
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    @Ian "Reasonable software." Ha ha. A great, great, great deal of software is unreasonable. Either because the developers didn't care or because they made a mistake. There could well be a bug in the system. This kind of thing is why good software would give you the means of overriding its decisions. It's possible that the university is simply unaware this happened, and even if they are aware, they may have decided to wait and see if it actually happened in practice (i.e., to wait for complaints) before going to the trouble of resolving it. It certainly doesn't imply they don't care. – jpmc26 Jan 11 '17 at 2:46
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I do not have experience in Canada, but I cannot imagine a university anywhere doing this intentionally. It's very easy to see how it could have happened unintentionally.

I would reach out to the professors as soon as possible after receiving the syllabus. The reason I say after is that one or more of the professors may already be planning to hold their exam outside of the regular schedule. Explain the situation to the professors, as well as the fact that you believe a large number of students are affected.

The professors have just as much interest as you do in the exams being an accurate test of your ability, and I cannot imagine they are happy with the situation. They're the ones who either 1) have the clout to get the administration to reschedule, or more likely 2) have the ability to schedule an alternate time.

Finally, an anecdote: This happened to one of my courses back in undergrad. The administration was unable to reschedule the whole exam because it would have given some people two exams at once- the professor was apoplectic. He eventually scheduled a second sitting of the exam- one open to those who had a conflict.

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    I'm a faculty member myself. If my course ran into a conflict like this, I would be grateful if I was made aware of the conflict as early as possible in the semester. – Michael Seifert Jan 10 '17 at 20:46
  • Faculty has all sorts of options to deal with conflicts. I had an exam conflict and in one of the courses, I did so well, I got a take home exam. It was an introductory programming course and I've been working as a programmer for 5 years already... of course work experience doesn't translate to course credit... so I had to take introductory programming classes. – Nelson Jan 11 '17 at 3:31
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You might want to bring this up with one or two of your professors - show them the curriculums and the times you have tests scheduled, and see if you can work something out with them so that the times don't run into one another.

It's entirely possible that the professors don't expect students to take these courses all in a row, so you might just be unlucky - but it's also possible that students aren't supposed to be taking all these courses at once (perhaps a mistake in setting up your curriculum), and a professor could spot that right away.

At the very worst, you'll find inflexible professors who refuse to help you - and it'll be no worse off than if you hadn't tried.

  • "What's the worst that could happen?" In this case, no change, so why not try it? – Wayne Werner Jan 10 '17 at 19:18
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    Note that the OP said that they are taking a standard set of courses in a degree program, and that they are not taking any special courses that aren't supposed to be taken at the same time. (Of course, they could be mistaken, but contacting the professor would probably clear this up as well.) – Michael Seifert Jan 10 '17 at 20:45
  • @MichaelSeifert Exactly what I was thinking - while they might believe that their course selection is standard, they might be mistaken, and a professor in that curriculum would be able to spot it if that's the case. – Zibbobz Jan 10 '17 at 21:03
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    "one or two of your professors" I see no reason not to just send a single e-mail to all 3 of them at once. – jpmc26 Jan 11 '17 at 2:49
  • @jpmc26 Personability. The three different professors may have different responses. – Zibbobz Jan 11 '17 at 4:41
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I had this happen to me when I was in college, I would suggest first talk to the professors and see if any of them are willing to make a special exception for you. If all 3 say no then check with the university to see if there is anything they can do to avoid it. Worst case scenario is you have to take the exams or consider dropping one of the courses. Keep in mind you also lose the benefit of last minute cramming on the last or even second final on the same day.

I remember when I was in your situation my brain was completely dead by the third exam and I did not do well in that course (I received a B on the midterm, thought I can get by on the final). Luckily my university had a policy where we can retake the course one more time if you received a failing grade and it will replace the failed grade in GPA but the failed course still shows on the record, easily received an A when I retook it the next year.

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What everyone else has said is great, I would suggest that that you follow their advice before mine as i feel mine should be last resort.

I have known a situation that was a lot less extreme than this (I think it was 2 exams back to back) but due to the exams being set by an external body there was nothing they could do about rearranging them. The solution they came up with was that the person taking the exam would have a break between them, staying in exam conditions but would not actually be taking an exam. Admittedly this meant longer in "exams" but they had some time to recompose their thoughts, have a drink and quiet food they brought into the exam.

I would like to emphasize this is a last resort and you should try the other things suggested here first, but if none of that works, what I have suggested is better than leaving it as it is (in my opinion)

Good luck

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Well if I were me, I'd get off the web and start studying ASAP.

No, in all seriousness there's often nothing you can do to change the schedule. If there are special circumstances such as bereavement or illness many Universities do allow you to submit for "Special Consideration". The best thing to do is do the best you can and they will scale your results accordingly (based on your assignment grades) if the situation has impacted on your exam performance.

Bear in mind a lot of other students in your institution will be tackling similar workloads and issues (exams early in the examination period or on the same day): you're competing for them for placement in higher degrees and scholarships so it's an even playing field. If one exam has particularly poor grad averages (do to poor schedule or an unusually tough exam) the class scores will be scaled up.

This is why it's advisable to study throughout the semester rather than cramming for exams. Generally, in my exams it was only a recap and practice questions if I had the time. The bonus is that you ought not to have many exams in the days leading up to it so try to eat well and get plenty of rest so your brain performs as well as it can.

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    Wow this wasn't well received, huh? Our University (not in North America) tried to schedule larger courses commonly taken together apart. However, to those of us taking an interdisciplinary course this kind of thing happened a lot. I empathise with the situation but honestly it's most practical to assume the worst and be prepared. – Tom Kelly Jan 11 '17 at 3:40
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    Studying hard doesn't really change their situation - the three tests, all of which are major parts of their grade, are still stacked one after another in a timeframe that is unrealistic for them to complete. It is worth at least asking if anything can be done to avoid this scenario, especially since they have months of time to prepare. – Zibbobz Jan 11 '17 at 4:43
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    Sure, I'm unfamiliar with North American systems but we do this by filing for "Special consideration" with the University, not the professors themselves. In our case, the exams are set but the University administration (with only a couple of weeks notice), not your professor so there's not much they can do about it. While it was considered for consecutive exams, it requires (an unlikely) unanimous agreement from the class to reschedule an exam here. Asking for assistance has been addressed in other answers also. Plus, the OP may have reasons for asking here instead of them directly. – Tom Kelly Jan 11 '17 at 5:15
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    In my Canada university there were specific policies in place for this situation. If you had more than 2 exams in a day they would have to accommodate that. Usually they would reschedule an entire exam if possible. If not the people with conflicts would take it at another time. It would have been insane to try and take 3 engineering exams in a day. Most Canadian universities have similar policies to make sure it doesn't happen. – JMac Jan 11 '17 at 13:45
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    @smci: The "Fundamentals of Engineering" and "Principles and Practice of Engineering" exams are each a single day with 8 hours of exams (with 60 or 90 minutes break in the middle). So while 9 hours of engineering exams in a day is something the university would like to avoid subjecting students to, it isn't overburdensome. Being contiguous with no break is cruel though. – Ben Voigt May 1 '17 at 6:33

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