As a student about to convocate with my undergraduate degree, I’ve been through my share of final exams. To be honest, though, I still don’t entirely see the point.
I know there needs to be some kind of wrap-up to the term, but why does it have to be three hours of hell in which your hand cramps up and your butt becomes laden with sweat? Are those chicken scratches truly indicative of what we’ve learned during the semester?
I don’t think so.
Every professor approaches finals differently, depending on what college and program is under discussion. I’m speaking from an arts perspective, though I’ve written exams in the sciences.
Traditional final exams need to be re-evaluated. After all, a final exam is merely one test that defines a large portion of our final grade. In many cases, a final exam can mean a pass or fail for students — especially if the exam is worth more than 50 per cent.
What can professors actually expect from students in a three hour final?
I’d be naïve to think that many students don’t cram for tests the night before — or even the morning of in some cases. I suppose it depends on whether the final consists of three hours of writing or three hours of Scantron sheet hell.
I don’t think I’ve ever proved my intellectual worth in a multiple-choice test. Frankly, I’ve always felt professors employing this method were always out to fuck with my mind.
Is it all of the above, you crazy bastard, or is it none of the above? Maybe I should just pick “C” and guess my way to 60 per cent. Goodness gracious.
I’ve had some professors offer take-home exams, which aren’t any less work than their in-class counterparts. In fact, they are more work and are often more time consuming. Admittedly, I’ve always gotten more out of my take-home exams because I’m forced to include quotations and review articles or other readings. I can’t just wing it, as has been the case for many of my finals throughout the years.
As an English major, I’ve also experienced my share of open book finals—though I take issue with these as well. Frankly, no professor ever circulates the room to check whether or not students have added additional notes in their books, and thus the point of the “exam” is null and void.
I know professors really want to trust students, but I think there are probably a few bad eggs in every carton.
So what’s the solution?
I am not an educator, nor have I done research into alternative means of testing. But I have been involved in educational systems for 17 years. I’ve been tested and I’ve definitely failed at times. Everyone complains about finals, so isn’t there some way to make them better?
I would simply like to encourage professors and students to push for alternatives when it comes to final forms of testing. Let’s think outside normative forms of examination. We’re modernizing our learning practices in many ways, and yet the idea of a written, in-class final exam is something that’s survived virtually unchanged.
Providing students with options when it comes to final exams might be the best way to go about it. Perhaps some students prefer an in-class final, while other students would rather write one last paper or do a presentation on a topic that truly interests them.
I’d rather have a final assignment that actually demonstrates what I’ve learned from the class, as opposed to a three-hour exercise in regurgitation.
It seems that final exams perpetuate the commodification of education; students needs to get high grades in order to have value in academia, or to be recognized by future employers or to get into professional colleges.
Doesn’t anyone care what I actually learned?
Graphic: Cody Schumacher