Susman: Do you learn more from projects or exams?

With fall term quickly coming to an end, we’re all running around frantically, trying to pick up the pieces of everything we’ve learned throughout the quarter.

While some of us save our stress for two distinct periods known as midterms and finals, others find it to be more of a constant stream, spreading itself out over the course of the entire quarter.

In many ways, the latter seems inherently worse than the first. After all, who would choose to be stressed for all 10 weeks instead of just a few here and there? Even if it’s less severe, the constant pressure of always having something that needs to be done is taxing.

The age-old debate of midterms and finals versus group projects has never had a definitive answer, more often than not because each individual case is so different and must be considered in its own distinct way. Group work and project requirements are so subjective that no two situations are alike, even if there are still some common denominators here and there.

Until college, my experience told me that group projects were infinitely easier than big exams. There was no studying or cramming involved, and you had other people to share the weight of the duties with.

That quickly changed once I got into college and experienced the reality of trusting other people with your entire course grade.

As much as you’re committed to making things work, the other members of your group are never going to be as concerned about your grade as you. Senior general social science major Valerie Sherwood commented on the difficulty of group work.

“Sometimes group work is really easy, and sometimes it’s really difficult. I’m actually about to go meet a group in 15 minutes and it’s been really hard to find time to meet each other,” she said. “We have conflicting ideas about what we should do or how we should do it. Both are hard, but when it’s an exam it’s all on you. When it’s a group project, you have to keep in mind like five other people.”

Sherwood’s comment illustrates what is quite possibly the most difficult part of working with other people.

There’s a degree of trust that must be maintained between the group’s members and everyone must be held responsible for doing his or her part. When you choose a group of people to share in the work, you’re assuming that everyone will take it seriously and complete what they’re obligated to do.

That assumption is where it’s easy to go wrong. Any good student could tell you that group projects rarely go smoothly. There’s always something else to consider and something else that needs to be done.

With all of the extra hassle involved in working with other people, it’s often questionable just how much you end up learning when it’s all said and done.

“Some students would rather have an exam instead of a project because they can get it done and over with in an hour,” said marketing instructor Frank Veltri. “Some projects can take upwards of six or so weeks of meeting and prep work. It’s a longer process, but because of that there’s sometimes more learning involved.”

On one hand, you’ve spent 10 weeks diving deep into one subject, but you’ve also spent that time feverishly trying to coordinate who’s holding up their end of the bargain.

But there’s no doubt that long-term group projects are more effective in making you learn more than a single exam.

Whether it’s knowledge of the actual subject or a better understanding of how to cooperate with others, you always walk away from a long-term project having gained something significant.

“Personally, I enjoy quarter-long projects because they’re more hands-on rather than trying to cram what you’ve learned all quarter into an hour-long test. I feel like you learn more overall with projects,” sophomore architecture major Davis Carlisle said.

Though we may not have a definitive answer for whether tests or projects are fundamentally better, we can at least say that we learn much more within the long-term group dynamic.

Even if you spent 10 weeks stressing nonstop about who was doing their part on your project, you were still probably more involved in the entire ordeal than if you were doing it alone. Group projects may force us into situations that are uncomfortable, but in the end we still come out of them smarter than before.

Follow Grant Susman on Twitter @ImGrantSusman

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Grant Susman

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