Overton: Scrap 7:30 a.m. finals

BY JON OVERTON | MAY 16, 2014 5:00 AM

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If I resent one thing, just one thing about the University of Iowa, it’s that for some godforsaken reason, I always have at least one final exam scheduled for 7:30 a.m.

Few people in their late teens or early 20s operate well at such an hour. Physiologically, we get tired later in the evening and require more sleep than most adults.

Once we become old farts like the rest of society, that won’t be a problem. In what will seem like no time at all, we will wake up at 5 a.m., suffer from terrible back problems, complain about kids these days, watch “Wheel of Fortune,” and spend our twilight years completing crossword puzzles.

But because so many college students are coming straight out of high school, not the retirement home, the UI really ought to consider pushing back starting times for final exams, not just for students’ sake but for the university as well.

It’s not just biology; our environments also affect sleep. Researchers from the University of North Carolina-Wilmington found in a study of students who took a finance class at 8 a.m. that “student performance is enhanced with more adequate sleep, in classes starting later than 8 a.m., for students who do not work, and for students who complete their undergraduate studies at a single school.”

In a nutshell, if you don’t get much sleep, thinking (a vital component of learning) isn’t so easy.

Last semester, I rarely got enough sleep and even after I drank 28 ounces of super cheap Mountain Dew from the Den, I would still accidentally nod off while sitting in the front row of a 40-ish-person class that I found really interesting.

In fact, only 34 percent of UI students got restful sleep in five of the past seven days, and one-third of the students report insufficient sleep as a serious problem, according to the 2013 National College Health Assessment.

If you don’t get enough sleep, academic performance suffers.

Pushing back final exam times will let students sleep more and therefore, improve grades. Given that in so many classes, grades depend largely on test scores, moving back final exam times would probably give students’ GPAs a real boost.

Now, if universities love to do just one thing, it’s brag about how wonderful they are. Scheduling final exams later in the day (at least later than 7:30 a.m.) so we can actually get enough sleep to remain conscious during the exam seems like it would help us perform better and allow the UI to talk about how smart its students are.

This would look great to prospective students, parents, the State Board of Regents, the Iowa Legislature, and a whole bunch of other important people who give the UI lots of money.

Sure, I get that we may not have enough space for all students to take their finals if we push back exam times. So why not encourage faculty to replace final exams with take-home tests, papers, projects, and other large assignments — or maybe just assign the last exam a week or two before finals week.

It would at least give me one less thing to bitch about in 550-ish words.

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