Next Monday marks the start of exams for UTM students.

The exam period can get overwhelming, but Gerry Karlovic is here to help (at least slightly) ease our stress by minimizing exam conflicts. Karlovic, assistant registrar at the Office of the Registrar, has been scheduling exams for almost four years.

She begins the scheduling process during the first two weeks of class. “When professors create their course syllabi, they submit an application regarding exam information,” she says. “This includes the length of the exam, and are there any constraints: for instance, is the professor available for the entire exam session? Exceptions are only made for medical reasons or for a conference.”

Once this is done, Karlovic extracts this information using her software, Encampus, before reviewing the data. Next, she investigates room availability using a second program called Continuous Surface. Then it’s time to schedule the exams.

The first thing she looks for are students who are taking similar courses; for example, first-year physical science students taking chemistry, biology, and math are put in a group and the exams for those courses are set to be a few days apart. “Sometimes it isn’t possible because there are too many combinations, but I target the core courses,” says Karlovic.

Technology plays an important role in the scheduling process. In 2012, UTM bought software that effectively removes conflicts, whether it’s a direct conflict or three consecutive exams in a single day or over two days. “We’ve been able to adhere to that since the software was purchased,” Karlovic says. “There could be a case when a course had to be rescheduled due to a medical conflict, and this has happened affecting six students, but it was unavoidable.”

It’s still difficult to ensure that students aren’t writing back-to-back exams, particularly when students are taking courses outside of their stream. But unless the schedule affects more than 10 students or a fourth-year student taking a first-year course, nothing changes.

The scheduling process is narrowed during the add/drop period. “I’m basically playing with the data. Scheduling, looking at the results, changing this around, looking at the results, changing around the data and looking at the results. When add/drop is over, students can no longer add courses, so that’s when I make the final cut and actually create what I would classify as a really good draft, but I would still consider this play time as we don’t consider the final draft until the 75% drop date,” Karlovic says.

“The reason we wait so long is because every student has the potential to drive the exam schedule and there are students who take courses and they’re basically still shopping. […] So what I do is try and eliminate as many of those students as possible because I don’t want them to drive the timetable.”

The department chairs get to look over the preliminary schedule, but they can’t make any changes. Even if one of their professors faces a medical emergency or is speaking at a conference during their scheduled exam, the conflict is only addressed if there will be no negative effect on students and another person is able to monitor the exam.

There are three to four days for input before the final version is posted. No changes can be made once the final is published, with the exception of the location, which professors can send through the dean’s office and the registrar, Diane Cocker. Small classes can petition to change the time and date of their exam, but it requires the support of all of the students in the class.

Karlovic decides the room for each exam based on how many students are writing it. “Psychology, for instance, has 900 students, so we encourage multiple exams and put the students in IB 110 and IB 120 so students can sit next to each other and not cheat. Also, it’s easy for the professor to travel to answer questions or provide assistance [in those rooms],” she says.

Given the current enrolment, there’s currently no need to extend the two-week exam period. The schedule is also not influenced by the St. George or Scarborough exam schedule.

Ultimately, Karlovic aims to make the process as calming and as relaxing as possible.

“There is always room for improvement and digging through the data to see what students have done, what are students taking that aren’t in common, and how can they be accommodated,” she says. “The goal is to see how the schedule best serves the students.”

The Medium also invites comment from students on the topic.