Condensed exam schedules leave college students 'super anxious' and overwhelmed

To help make up lost instruction time, colleges have lengthened semesters and cancelled reading weeks — but some students say its not enough to make up for missed lessons and dramatically compressed exam schedules.

After 1 week back in the classroom, many students are plunging immediately into mid-term exams

Thousands of frustrated Toronto students protested in mid-November, slamming the government's slow response to the strike and the colleges for jeopardizing their school year. (Chris Young/Canadian Press)

Since finding out his midterm exam schedule, Seneca College student Matthew Robbins has barely been sleeping — he says he needs every second he can get to study.

Almost halfway through an advanced investigations and enforcement certificate program and working a part-time job in retail, Robbins told CBC Toronto, he started to feel "sick to his stomach" as soon as he learned what was expected to him.

"In the next week, I have five exams worth 30 per cent of my whole grade, along with a 20-minute presentation worth another 20 per cent there," he said. "Overly stressed, that's an understatement."

Many Ontario college students say they're in the same boat: anxious, overwhelmed, and wondering if they can possibly catch up after five weeks out of the classroom while faculty were on strike.

George Brown College student Kay Nguyen says he isn't prepared for the assignments and mid-term exams coming his way this week. 'It's too much,' he explained. (CBC)

"A lot of students are super anxious this week, doing reviews in class, no one knew what was going on," said George Brown College construction management student Soheil Soveiri.

Soveiri was on campus Friday working through two "really lengthy" assignments due Sunday. Like Robbins, he plunges directly into mid-term exams next week.

A spokesperson for Colleges Ontario told CBC Toronto that it's up to individual colleges and programs to decide how to best accommodate students.

To help make up lost instruction time, colleges have lengthened semesters and cancelled reading weeks

'I'm not sure we can do well' 

In some cases, those changes are helping: Lian McLean-Smits, a student at George Brown studying hospitality, said he feels prepared and calm.

Though exams are coming up, "our teachers are compensating for them, they're not making them as difficult as they were before, because they understand and they're just as frustrated as we are," he told CBC Toronto.

But other students remained concerned that their grades will inevitably suffer given the compressed amount of time they have to do their work.

'As far as talking to the school to work it out and get everything moved around, they’re not very helpful,' says Matthew Robbins of his communications with Seneca. (Submitted by Matthew Robbins)

"It's too many things to do in a short time," said George Brown hotel management student Kay Nguyen. "We can finish, but I'm not sure we can do well."

Those concerns have translated to an uptick in the number of students seeking out counselling at George Brown, says Tenniel Rock, who manages counseling for the school.  

"We have a lot of students coming in with anxiety," she told CBC Toronto. "That's been the biggest thing — anxiety and stress."

Withdrawing not an option

Rock says many students her office hears from are mulling whether their best bet is to withdraw from the semester. Ontario is promising a full tuition refund for anyone who does. 

"A lot of people are dropping out. We have 'till December 4," said Soveiri, who said he is choosing to stay because he doesn't want to lose the semester. 

Students at George Brown College have just under 10 days to decide if they want to withdraw from the semester — but student Soheil Soveiri says he's not considering it. (CBC)

Despite being intensely stressed, Robbins says withdrawing isn't an option for him either. 

After reaching out for help from advisors and deans at Seneca, he said he received a reply that told him if he did decide to withdraw, he should consult admissions about coming back. 

"I was lucky enough to get in. Next year they're going to have a whole other wave of kids," said Robbins, who worries that leaving would throw off his plans and jeopardize his future career in law enforcement.   

As a result, he has only one choice, he says: call in sick to work, cram for his five exams, and keep missing sleep.