Fixing finals

Thursday , March 06, 2014 - 11:53 AM

Madison Burton

Nothing can bring fear to a college student’s mind faster than the mention of finals week. During this dreadful week one can picture college students cramming a whole semester’s worth of material into a couple of days, or possibly even hours. This horrifying week promotes late night study sessions, caffeine overloads, and stress levels out the roof. But that’s not all. Students will sometimes take as many as four or more intense final exams in a matter of days. Many finals are also timed which creates a terrifying psychological frenzy causing students to make irrational decisions or panic as they try to beat the clock. Finals week is not structured for student success and should be adjusted to benefit the student’s needs.

It seems the only purpose of finals week is to assess the student’s learning and to grade the effectiveness of the professor.In most classes a final exam is worth more points than a regular exam and sometimes worth as much as twenty percent of a student’s final grade. Not every class has a final exam, but many of the difficult classes such as chemistry, calculus, and physics have a heavily weighted final at the end of the semester. Even if a student performs well on other exams throughout the semester, yet struggles on the final, they could see their grade impacted negatively.

When a student knows there is a final exam at the end of the class, their focus tends to shift in a completely different direction. One of the most common questions asked in a college classroom is, “will this be on the final exam?” The whole focus of the student has gone from increasing their knowledge to just studying the material that will be on the big test. If final exams were omitted the student would spend less time studying and more time learning which in turn would affect their overall knowledge base.

Other universities across the United States are starting to realize the importance of this concept. In the article No More Final Exams at Harvard, Harvard made headlines when the university decided that finals were no longer a requirement for each class, but could be requested by the professor if they felt it was really needed. In fact, only twenty-three percent of the 1,137 undergraduate courses at Harvard actually had final exams. I believe other universities should follow the example of Harvard.

Some people might argue that getting rid of finals altogether will make college students lazy and not willing to work for their grade. Having a final test, however, is a good way to assess how proficient a student is in regards to the material they have learned over the course of the semester. Others believe that when students anticipate final tests, they usually plan adequate amounts of study time, but some argue that cramming for final exams is more of a time management issue due to poor planning on the part of the student. Regardless of the arguments, studying for several final exams after completing a semester’s worth of projects, scheduled practical tests, and absorbing new material can put a damper on the performance of a student.

Instead, finals week should be replaced with more frequently scheduled exams throughout the semester. This change will keep students from becoming overloaded with material at the end of the class and give them the opportunity to learn and review the material more in depth. For example, in my Microbiology class at Weber State there are a total of six tests, but no final exam. More frequent exams has allowed me to study the material in depth and receive higher scores as a result. Compare this to my Chemistry class which has a total of three tests and a heavily-weighted final exam. Even with high scores on the previous tests, if I don’t score high enough on the final my grade could be in jeopardy. In the article, Final Exams are Vanishing From Colleges, Linda Serra Hagedorn, a professor at Iowa State University and president-elect of the Association for the Study of Higher Education, stated that “The better approach is to have a holistic approach to learning where one learns in steadier and smaller increments.”

With regularly scheduled tests throughout the semester, studying the required material will be more manageable and allow college students to be more prepared, in greater control of their grades, and able to keep their head in the game. Even though finals week will come and go students must try to retain the knowledge they acquired to earn their degree. College should not be about cramming for big tests and then flushing the material out after the test is over. Each concept and technique learned from college should be fully understood and applied to the life of the student.

Madison Burton lives in Uintah.

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