The fear of the unknown — it surrounds us, grasps us and chokes the light out of us. It is simply human nature to fear what we do not understand, and when it comes to some of our upper-level courses, fear can get worse. I’ve gone into many a class not knowing what to expect — what is the proper way to take notes? What is important to remember and what can I brush over? What will exams, assignments and papers be like?
I, for one, have stared blank-faced at a syllabus or rubric, facing the abyss of confusing assignments or instructions, struggling to figure out what it is I am supposed to do. Sometimes, asking for clarification from professors just leads to more confusion. Too often I feel like Jim Halpert from the stellar TV show “The Office” — when his boss asked him to prepare a “rundown” of his clients, Jim is left staring into the camera asking, “What is a rundown?” When he asked his boss what he wanted the rundown “to look like,” the reply was to make it “a basic rundown.” Such a situation correlates to the classroom —
“I want you to write an analysis paper.”
“Well professor, what should this paper look like?”
“Just a standard analysis paper”
Such a catch-22 often leaves me lost and confused, staring at a blank word document pulled up before me, not knowing where to start.
Thankfully, the odds are we are not the first to be confused by a particular professor’s assignments. There are those who have taken the course before us and have done the same assignments that we could be struggling with today. And, in time, we will be the students who have overcome these classes.
However, wouldn’t it be so much easier if we could learn from those who have completed these courses? Wouldn’t it be easier if assignments, papers, quizzes, exams and study guides were saved from one generation of students to the next?
I certainly think so. I have started making it a practice to ask upperclassmen in my major if they still have any of their old study guides or papers — not because I aim to plagiarize, but because I want to see what the proper format is. Thanks to the magic that is cloud sharing, entire folders of information can easily be passed down from one student to the next, the knowledge builds on itself and soon students could have an entire semester’s worth of information just a few clicks away. Additionally, tests and quizzes, if returned to students, can be scanned and uploaded as well. In essence, we are investing in a knowledge bank, where students can collectively succeed.
Some might call this a form of cheating, but I believe it’s the furthest from. So long as students still create original work, this bank will only serve to show students how to be successful in a particular course. And if a professor happens to use the exact same test from year to year, then that is only a boon to students. It’s not as if the student stole a current copy of an exam, but rather is able to see what information they are expected to know and to study for it. Some students might be hesitant to pass on this information — to do all of the work only to have others benefit from it, but the sharing of assignments is not a detriment to anyone, and as a community of students, we should do everything we can do to help each other.
Already, some fraternities and sororities contain such “test banks” of assignments. For non-Greek students, it would be beneficial for underclassmen to ask upperclassmen for help. I know the Political Science Student Association has students always willing to help one another, and major-specific organizations would be well-suited to designing these banks. We should all be willing to invest our knowledge, even if it means only future students will benefit. As students, we owe it to one another to help prepare for the future and to bank for success.