Academic Director’s December Update – Final Exams

Recognizing outstanding instructors and preparing for final exams. 

As the holiday season approaches, it is important to recognize the gifts that instructors bring to the UBC community. Instructors inspire and motivate students to acquire knowledge and evolve and flourish as both scholars and individuals. Now is the time to recognize instructors and their contributions. There are multiple UBC Okanagan teaching awards including the Provost’s Teaching Excellence and Innovation Award, the Killam Teaching Prize, and recognitions for teaching assistants. New this year is the Outstanding Instructor Award recognizing the top 5% of instructors in each Faculty based on their impact in the classroom and ability to generate exceptional student learning experiences. Take the time to nominate deserving colleagues and spread a little joy to all instructors working hard for our learning community. 

Final exams are also right around the corner. Here is a checklist to help your final exams go smoothly: 

  1. Clearly communicate exam time, format, material, and expectations.
  2. Verify that your assessment is reasonable in time and difficulty.
  3. Follow UBC guidelines regarding exam scheduling and best practices.
  4. Help students understand expectations by providing practice assessments, especially when utilizing technology.
  5. Test any technology used and have a plan for potential issues. 


The most important checklist item is ensuring students understand what to expect on your assessment. Communicate this through multiple channels, including in-class, on Canvas, and via email. Although people like surprises during the holidays, students do not like surprises on an exam. The assessment should reflect what was taught in class and the most important material. It should also be reasonable for students to complete on time and at the right level of difficulty. This can often be hard to determine, especially for instructors new to teaching a course. In general, an instructor’s time to complete an assessment is not an accurate measure. If there are teaching assistants for your course, ask them to try the exam and provide feedback. 

Final exams follow strict policies at UBC in terms of scheduling and accommodations related to student hardship. Familiarize yourself with UBC policies and contact your Faculty administration for more information. Notably, take home exams are discouraged for several reasons: they may create student hardship due to unknown scheduling conflicts with other scheduled exams, and they are more susceptible to issues with academic integrity, especially related to generative AI. 

To avoid unwanted surprises in exams, help students understand what to expect by providing practice questions or assessments whenever possible. This approach reinforces the priorities of the exam and allows students to confirm their understanding while becoming familiar with any technology involved.  

If the exam is computer-based, refer to the published CTL recommendations and consider how to handle issues like computer failure, limited access to power, or other issues with technology. Most exam rooms do not have power to all seats, and that is not practically achievable in exam scheduling. Be prepared to accommodate students as required. Similarly, make sure students writing with the DRC are supported in their exam experience by providing the exam to the DRC at specified deadlines and being available to answer questions via email or phone. Even in the case of traditional paper exams, have additional copies on hand in case of unforeseen issues and provide blank scrap paper for student use.  

Following this simple checklist will ensure you remain on the “nice list” and experience a joyful exam season (with the exception of the marking). 

Happy Holidays, 

Ramon Lawrence 

CTL Academic Director