OPINION: It’s time to put the pencil down on final exams

Students in an East science room take their final exam. Photo by Kelsey Gara.

It’s the holiday season. Families all across the country are decorating their homes with tinsel and lights. Children are sitting in their pajamas, hot chocolate in hand, ready to watch “The Polar Express.” And high school students are forced to brave through the toughest week of the semester.

This week, of course, is finals week. 

The concept of a final written exam has existed in some form in higher education since the 1640s when students at Harvard were required to take an exam spanning four years of education in order to graduate.

Since then, finals have become synonymous with cramming a semester’s worth of information into a night of studying, growing a couple of gray hairs, and a light at the end of a very, very long tunnel. 

Recently, the efficacy of final exams has been called into question by students and educators alike, so the question is: Is it time to put the final exam to rest?

In short, yes.

The final exam is an outdated method of measuring the effectiveness of a teacher’s curriculum, and its replacement with a less daunting alternative would allow students to apply the knowledge they have gained and incentivizes students’ involvement in lessons all semester.

Of course, educators and administrators may argue that finals are a good way to promote paying attention in class and to establish study habits that students will need later on in their education, but final exams can bring about the opposite effect intended. 

According to Butler University, 89% of students said that they were stressed at least four times in the semester, and 30% stated that they were noted for the majority of the year. 

Stress has been known to overload the attention system, thereby reducing the number of attention resources available to allocate to less relevant information.

The modern final has also normalized a method of study I like to call the “cram and scram.”

This method is characterized by a student studying intensely for an exam a few days or weeks before, regurgitating all they absorbed onto the page, and forgetting the information they learned immediately after the test.

“Cramming and scramming” is unfortunately a very common way for students to prepare for their final due to the antiquated nature of memorizing information learned at the beginning of August to be applied at the end of December.

A study by Minnesota State University states that there has been a link between cramming and the traditional 100-question, multiple-choice, final exam and that this method has been controversial since its inception. 

Instead of the final culminating exam, institutions like Indiana University and the University of California have moved toward final projects like speeches, analyses, or videos.

These final projects are usually begun at the halfway point of the semester, and they involve all of the things that are taught in the course before and after it is introduced.

Final projects like the ones used in college courses should be integrated more often into the high school curricula, as long-form learning would be more beneficial for younger minds, and they promote evenly distributed work throughout.

Alternative projects also could involve group work and communication among students. A study by Carnegie Mellon University found that group work teaches students the value of sharing diverse perspectives, developing their own voice, and self-accountability.

The final exam has been an unnecessary source of stress for high school students across the country for centuries, and it has promoted an unhealthy and inefficient system of study that most times, does not even help students learn the information they are being tested on

It’s time for educators and administrators to say their goodbyes to the traditional final exam, as an academic world without them would be better for the students who may one day succeed them.

Kelsey Gara is a staff editor for Oswego East’s online news magazine The Howl

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