Guest Post by Florine Church
Pretty much anything involving tests will rile up controversy in the education sector, particularly those of the standardized variety. But finals dredge up their own share of criticisms, and for reasons other than “not wanting to take them.” While they remain fully ingrained in the fabric of high schools and colleges, many have noted a trend away from the traditional setup thanks to these valid complaints. What this ultimately means for students and teachers alike is up to time, of course, although the likely scenario will see more of a shift in its structure rather than complete elimination.
- So popular, in fact, that Harvard Faculty of Arts and Sciences consider finals the exceptions rather than the rules these days. In fact, any professor wanting to hold one has to submit a form asking for permission! Most just find the final paper a sufficient rubric for measuring students’ knowledge retention. Adding an exam on top of that just exhausts everyone involved with needless redundancy.
Not all classrooms allow for this unfortunate phenomenon, of course, but the ones that do understandably frustrate students who show up every day and wind up receiving the exact same scores. Final exams who pull their content almost exclusively from textbooks pose the highest risk of rewarding the veritable Punxsutawney Phils on campus, so it isn’t their existence so much as their particular structure which causes problems in this instance. The easiest solution for professors hoping to reward pupils involves adding attendance to part of their grade, and throwing in final questions only covered in lectures and activities.
Probably the biggest complaint launched against final exams involves how they just don’t accurately capture how well students understand the material. Comprehensive tests in particular earn this criticism because topics covered earlier in the semester have already begun fading. A trend at Northern Arizona University saw professors edging more towards testing more throughout the course rather than placing much of the weight on midterms and finals. Practitioners claim this practice serves as a far better tool for truly understanding where students’ unique strengths and weaknesses sit.
Both educators and their students find the final examination process – whether studying for or grading – mentally and physically taxing. This especially holds a negative influence over those actually taking the tests themselves, as the exhaustion may very well compromise their scores. Even the most competent, intelligent student flubs a few questions when his and/or her brain focuses more on its desire to rest. Hence the popularity of easing the weight off stressful midterms and finals and spreading the grades out a little thinner across the semester.
Berkeley does a fine job of listing creative projects its professors have used in lieu of offering final exams. When designed right, they still challenge students to cobble together the knowledge gleaned over the entire course of a semester with the same – if not more – accuracy than the typical test. Not every topic necessarily lends itself to a written analysis, so replacing the traditional format has its advantages in labs, public speaking and drama courses, and plenty more.
It’s the very same criticism often levied onto standardized tests – teachers (especially those who recycle their finals from semester to semester) often feel tethered to the material. A more organic education experience would hinge more on the syllabus than the analyses, though it makes perfect sense why educators roll with such a time-cutting measure. However, critics of the concept think this strategy curtails classroom discussions that veer off into different, but educationally viable, ideas.
Some schools in Canada have already dismantled their final exam and midterm policies because they see these tests as extraneous. As teacher Cherra-Lynne Olthof points out, by the end of the semester students already possess a pretty clear idea where their grades are headed. To some extent, this might also prove indicative of a self-fulfilling prophecy. Students who already know they’re headed for crummy grades might intentionally perform terribly on their finals, even if they have a chance to redeem themselves through them.
“Why do we have to memorize this? We’ll never use it in the real world…” plagues ever so many (if not all) educators at some point in their career. Sometimes, though, the complaints regarding rote learning do come supported by genuinely good points and not just plain whining. Conducting final exams on subjects with little to no bearing on future careers seems pointless to many education professionals, who feel as if stress should lay more with valuable life and job skills, which DO need testing.
also published here
- Cram. Memorize. Regurgitate. Forget. (everydaysociologyblog.com)
- Final Exam Time! (msotwboggs.wordpress.com)
- Teaching load, itemized: part 1 (ilaba.wordpress.com)
- Excuse for an Absence (the25yearplan.wordpress.com)
- Possible final exam study session through USTREAM (organicchemistoncall.wordpress.com)
- How Do We Measure Learning? (bokcenter.harvard.edu)