Guidelines Regarding Final Examinations

The guidelines below are from the Office of the Provost, repeated here for guidance for faculty who teach online. Take special note of recommendation 8, which specifies that these recommendations apply regardless of mode of instruction.

These guidelines were developed to help chairpersons make decisions about which courses may be exempted from having a final examination during the fifteenth week of the semester, and to make the process for these decisions more transparent for faculty. While the guidelines may appear to be restrictive, they are necessary for clarity, uniformity, and accountability.


In accordance with long-standing practice and the support of a sizable portion of the faculty, it is generally agreed that a final examination supports the maintenance of academic standards and is sound academic policy.

According to the New York State Education Department, a “semester hour means a credit, point, or other unit granted for the satisfactory completion of a course which requires at least 15 hours (of 50 minutes each) of instruction and at least 30 hours of supplementary assignments (…). This basic measure shall be adjusted proportionately to translate the value of other academic calendars and formats of study in relation to the credit granted for study during the two semesters that comprise an academic year.” This definition was adopted by the CUNY Board in 1978.  (Credit hour requirements also apply during Intersession and Summer Session.)

The academic calendar at Queens College calls for a fourteen-week term, with the fifteenth week reserved for final examinations. The fifteenth week is provided to give students time to prepare for final examinations without conflicting with other course commitments. If one class has an examination in the fourteenth week, while classes are still in session, students often feel the need to “cut” their other courses so they can prepare for the fourteenth-week examination. Clearly the lack of standardization is a hardship for some students and creates inequitable conditions.

Recommended Practices

  1. It is good academic practice to conclude a course with a formal final examination, or the last in a series of shorter examinations. These examinations should be given during the fifteenth week of the semester.
  2. There are courses for which reasonable alternatives to final examinations exist. Such courses might include seminars, studio and performance courses, certain laboratory courses, student teaching, etc. All such courses should, however, include appropriate summative evaluation activities.
  3. Classroom examinations given during the first fourteen weeks of the semester do not satisfy the requirement for a final examination or an alternative summative evaluation.
  4. Whenever possible, summative evaluation activities should take place during the fifteenth week of the semester.
  5. Waivers from the requirement for a formal final examination during the fifteenth week of the semester must be obtained from the department chairperson, who will judge the appropriateness of:
    • an alternative to a formal final examination, such as a take-home examination, which is distributed and returned during the fifteenth week;
    • an alternate summative evaluation, such as a final term paper submitted and graded during the fifteenth week, or a juried trial in art studio performed during the fifteenth week of the semester; or
    • activities in special courses before the fifteenth week of the semester, such as extra field trips and reports or extra assignments and conferences with students.

At the end of the thirteenth week, the chairperson should submit a list of exempted courses and the reasons for such exemption to the appropriate Divisional Dean.

  1. Final exams should be scheduled on the time and day designated by the Registrar.  The final exam schedule is published in the CUNYfirst schedule of classes, typically early in the semester. Students should be encouraged to check the final exam schedule as early in the semester as possible, so they can report any conflicts (e.g., two exams scheduled for the same time) to their instructor, who will determine the best way of resolving the conflict in consultation with the chair.
  2. It is a violation of the CUNY Policy on Academic Integrity for a student to allow another person to take an examination in his or her place. Instructors must develop processes for verifying the identity of students taking final examinations, be these examinations in person or online, and must make these processes known to students (by describing them on the course syllabus and discussing them in class). Verifying student identity is obviously much more complex for online courses, so these may require multiple approaches, including the following:
    • Use a CUNY or a QC system requiring a secure login to collect all assignments, including the final examination. Brightspace, for example, uses IDs and passwords to invoke an authentication triangulated against name, date of birth, and social security number. (These are inaccessible but generate a unique access number which is what users invoke to gain access to the system.) This secure login is a student’s only means of access to Brightspace.
      Use the features of online learning management systems to track students’ interactions with online exams or other materials.  These systems sometimes allow instructors to track students’ interactions by time and duration, by part of the site, even if there is no posting by the student.
      Use software such as Turnitin to check for evidence of plagiarism.
    • Include in-person (proctored) in addition to online (unproctored) examinations, and check for evidence of lack of correspondence between student performance in in-person versus online examinations.
    • Supplement all mechanical means of verifying student identity with activities that involve spontaneous interactions between students and the instructor, including discussion boards, blogs, wikis, asynchronous and synchronous conferencing (including voice and video), etc.
  3. The preceding guidelines apply to all courses, regardless of mode of instruction.  Some specifics for web-enhanced, partially online, hybrid, online, and fully-online courses:
    • Finals administered online should be scheduled during the fifteenth week of classes.
    • If there will be no final (online or in person) during the fifteenth week of a web-enhanced, partially online, hybrid, online, or fully online course, the instructor should seek a waiver from the requirement for a formal final examination during the fifteenth week.
    • Web-enhanced, partially online, hybrid, online, and fully online courses should specify in the syllabus the mode of administration of all assignments, including the final examination.
    • Fully online courses are by definition 100% online, and therefore must not have an in-person final.

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