Final exams. For many of us, they’re rapidly approaching. As you read these lines, you’re reminded of the looming obstacle, and if you’re anything like me, your heart rate quickens and sweat appears on your brow as you try and remember how many lattes and 3 a.m. meltdowns it took to get through them last semester.
For many of us, final exams have the potential to make or break the grade that we receive in any given class. In one of my classes this semester, the final exam counts for an entire quarter of my grade. That’s 25 percent. That means that one test has the potential to essentially undermine an entire semester’s worth of hard work and dedication, and that just doesn’t sit right with me.
This method of testing is an unnecessary burden on the mental, physical and social health of college students everywhere. According to the American Journal of Health Studies, “Significant associations have been established between college stress and cognitive difficulties including impairment in academic performance, increased rates of depression and anxiety, and overall decrease in life satisfaction. According to one-third (32 percent) of the nearly 50,000 students surveyed at 74 U.S. campuses in the American College Health Association National College Health Assessment, stress was the most commonly identified impediment to academic performance.”
In simpler terms, stress causes students to perform less than their best academically, and final exams are one of the biggest sources of stress for many college students, especially because many of us are taking four or more final exams within the span of a few days.
Not only do cumulative final exams burden students with an unnecessary amount of stress, they are an ineffective measure of true academic performance. Because of the nature of cumulative final exams, many students cram all of their studying into 24- to 72-hour sessions before the test, which may result in a passing grade but does very little for long-term retention of the material.
Additional factors that lend themselves to the ineffective nature of cumulative final exams are test anxiety, lack of sleep and the possibility that you may simply not feel your best on the day of the exam. There are just too many factors that go into test performance to assign such a large portion of a student’s grade to a single test. So why does one test have to hold so much more value than the others?
A potential solution, and one that I’ve encountered in a few of my classes, is to allow more opportunities for test success. Instead of allocating 10 percent of the students’ grade on the midterm and 10 percent on the final, for example, why not allow for quarterly testing and instead allocate 5 percent to each test and test the students only on the material learned in that quarter? Not only does this method allow students more opportunities for success, it’s a surefire way to improve test performance. Quarterly exams mean less material that students have to remember for each exam, resulting in less stress and, in turn, better test performance.
Sure, this solution involves some adjustments and certainly more grading throughout the semester on behalf of our professors, but it would doubtlessly garner a whole lot of gratitude and allow many of us a better shot at academic success.
Junior secondary education major
Printed in the 04/15/15 issue.