It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like . . . Exam Time

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like . . . Exam Time

With my first F&ES semester coming to an end and finals just around the corner, I thought I would take a moment to answer one of the most common questions I get from visiting students: What are the exams like? As a joint MEM/law student who has spent the last two years in law school, the F&ES exam season is like a breath of fresh air! Current and former law students know the law school routine: at the end of each semester, you sit for three or four essay-based exams, where you write (or type) furiously for four hours in an attempt to convey all you have learned over the semester. Occasionally, there might be some multiple choice questions or short answers thrown in, and in upper level electives, you might write a term paper rather than an exam. In short, law school exams are stressful and tedious. Perhaps your undergraduate exams were similar, if less intense.

Exam time at F&ES is challenging. It may even be stressful and tedious at times. However, there are two main differences between law school (and college). First, you are likely to see a greater variety of final formats – anything from papers to client projects to more traditional exams – depending on the courses you choose. Another big change: lots of group work! Unlike in law school, where working together on assignments is often considered “cheating,” I have been encouraged throughout the semester to work with others on weekly problem sets, and often required to work with classmates on projects and presentations.

To give you an idea of what F&ES finals might be like, I’ll tell you a bit about my own experience. Of the four courses I am taking this semester, two courses (Economics of the Environment and Physical Sciences for Environmental Management) involve traditional, sit-down exams (although physical sciences includes a take-home, online component so that the sit-down portion is much shorter).

In a third course – Ecosystems and Landscapes (a recommended foundations course for all MEM students) – I have worked with a 12-person group throughout the semester collecting samples at a local salt marsh ecosystem, analyzing those samples in the lab, building a carbon budget for our property, and preparing a presentation for the class. As our final project, we will create and submit a management plan for the property which maximizes carbon storage and biodiversity in our ecosystem. Working with such a large group certainly comes with challenges, but can be a huge benefit, too. Within our group we have an attorney, a former landscape architect, natural science majors, and students taking their first ecology course since high school! That wide variety of knowledge and perspectives has been invaluable to our project.

As my fourth course, I am participating in Yale’s Environmental Protection Clinic. As a joint clinic between F&ES and Yale Law School, it assigns each student to a client organization. My partner and I worked with the non-profit organization Oceana on a memorandum related to Steller sea lion critical habitat in Alaska. Other groups prepared legal briefs, comment letters, white papers, and fact sheets depending on their clients’ needs and interests.

As you can see, the type of finals you face will depend largely on the courses you take. Be sure to read the course description before enrolling so that you know what is expected from you at the end of the semester. In general, you will face a variety of exams and projects, many of which involve group work. To all the current students out there, good luck with finals! As always, feel free to email me with questions about my FES experience (