As we approach the end of the semester yet again, the impending week of final exams incites fear in the hearts of students everywhere. While a few of us are confident in our test taking capabilities, most of us are panicking as we scramble through old lecture notes and write out a thousand notecards trying to capture every little thing that we could possibly be tested on.
Our hands begin to permanently smell like highlighter, and the pen strokes against our palms smudge the notecards we are trying to write out. The information we are inhaling is only temporary. We have been taught how to be tested, not how to learn.
Final exams are one of the last vestiges of a dying education system. Asking students to regurgitate information on a specific date is not conducive to a positive learning environment. While a student may be able to spit out a statistic after recognizing key words in a test question, do they know why that statistic is important? Not always. As a generation of test takers, we have been trained how to repeat information for a score, not necessarily how to discuss the importance of information.
The first step to changing this is to get rid of final exams. Not that this will solve the whole problem, but the negative impacts of final exams on students are not worth any value the tests actually have.
There is a multiplicity of negative impacts that final exams have on students. Chiefly, they stress students out. This may not seem like the important impact, but constant cyclical stress is harmful to your mental and physical health.
Students have internalized that every four to five months they are going to be anxious and stressed. They will consume copious amounts of coffee and fast food in an attempt to extend their study time.
This last minute crunch will not actually help students remember the content in the long term. Rather, it will be forgotten in a couple weeks when “Star Wars” comes out, and students need to remember that experience so much more than they need to remember what polynomials are.
This insurmountable stress can also cause students to take refuge in nontraditional means of studying. The rise in popularity of prescription ADHD medication is more than likely due to students abusing it for its intense side effects. The drug allows students to focus and concentrate without having to take breaks. It is not uncommon to find students who buy the drug illegally and using it to study.
This not only is illegal, but the drug itself has some negative side effects – like raised blood pressure, insomnia and anxiety. The drug also has a risk of dependency. Students are putting themselves at risk in order to score higher on an arbitrary exam.
Let’s face it, these exams are fairly arbitrary. They cannot really quantify what a student has learned in a course. Filling out a bubble or jotting down a memorized definition does not assess a student’s intelligence. Except that we live in a society that deems intelligence by grades, so students feel the extra pressure to perform on these exams that do not really define what we are capable of.
When we get out into our careers, we will not be asked to perform in such ways. When we run our own businesses, teach classes or create research projects, we will not be tested. There is no No. 2 pencil and scantron to throw up what we have learned onto.
Instead, employees will be asked to step up to the plate and synthesize their education through action. Explain something, facilitate something, teach something.
We will not be asked to study weeks ahead of time, there will be no study guide – we will be expected to think on our feet. Final exams do not help us develop those skills. If anything, it is a habit that we will have to unlearn as we break into our disciplines.
Many other forms of assessing content knowledge are available. The most utilized are writing final papers. In this situation students have upwards of a month to research, form ideas and complete the task. This form of assessment relies heavily on the understanding of the course material, and the capability to synthesize information.
In lieu of essay writing, students can give oral exams or presentations, where everyone in the audience learns and understands along with the person giving the presentation.
These forms of finals give more room to students and benefit them in the long run.
It is time to end the final exam. It is not conducive to an adequate learning environment in a university.