As an undergrad, I experienced practical exams during all four years of undergraduate biology, even in biostatistics! It was part and parcel of of every module in botany and zoology which I read and it was an interesting experience which contributed to our development.
Practical exams probably began with the first biology class in NUS (post-war), as it is how biologists would think, but I can only attest to its practise in NUS from 1987.
Running practical exams faded with the phenomenal influx of life science students over a decade ago and staff then struggled to provide practicals, let along conduct practical exams. First year numbers eventually dropped to some 250-350 per semester when I returned to teach and it was right time to revive the tradition of practical exams. And I did so for LSM1103 and LSM3261 at least.
Importantly, the TAs, LO, FTTAs and the undergrads themselves were all enthusiastic about the experience.
It has been a hectic time with 18-hour days since August and time flies at this pace. Yesterday at the LSM1103 lecture, I realised (along with the students) that the practical exam was a mere two Saturdays away!
So FTTA Xu Weiting (civet girl) was activated over LINE and we sorted the admin out through GDrive by midnight. And this year I have included thirteen Kent Ridge plant species in the exam syllabus – finally!
By 2.00am, after some further tweaking, students were emailed necessary details. Online hiccup with an LT venue but I was feeling quite pleased. All this efficiency is thanks partly to SOPs written out over the past two years with former FTTA Amanda Tan, and the practise the three of us had of exhaustive and detailed evaluations. So it’s mostly all still in our heads.
This afternoon after some module meeting, Weiting and I grabbed module LO Morgany T who was passing by to review the workflow and fault-find the procedure. This is how version 4, and while the op has become simpler, it is more efficient and secure.
We’re ready to brief TAs and check specimens. The honours year TAs would have experienced the op themselves three years ago and it will be fun for them as they help run the op – a coming of age!
We trim the amount of the time the first year undergraduates have to wait as best we can and soften post-exam waiting time with Attenborough videos. Importantly, though, we’ve kept them amongst their group mates from the module, with whom they have experienced the four LSM1103 practicals they are being examined over – nothing like some pressure for bonding!
It’s stressful of course, but I’m always glad that we make the effort when we watch students respond to the bell in the exam, just like I did in the late 80’s. Some traditions are worth maintaining.