Final Exams – Helpful or Useless?

Joann Wolwowicz

We all know that they are right around the corner. We all know that we have to take them. We all know that they are always a substantial percentage of our grade. And finally, we all know that they make us live in the library for two weeks, pull out our hair, lose sleep, and stress more than we have the entire semester. Finals are truly a joyful time; everyone agree? So then if they cause so much joy in the world, and I mean that sarcastically, why do we continue to have them? Why are they forced on us for two weeks, two hours each, right before a much needed break? My vote on finals is that they are useless.

To begin, let’s just say that finals are unhelpful. Students spend a majority of the day before the exam cramming everything they can into their brains for the final the next day. God help you if that final should happen to be at 8:00 a.m. (but that’s a topic for a whole different paragraph). And horrible things happen when you have two finals on the same day. So, as most students do, studying the day before a final for twelve hours will give you enough preparation to do well on a final. No matter how many times teachers, advisors, and parents warn us about not doing that, we all do it. (And I’m sure these same teachers, advisors, and parents did the same thing when they were in school.) What’s the result of this massive cramming session? No one retains the information after the exam. One month from now, you won’t be able to remember how to do the simplest things in that one class you stayed up until 5:00 a.m. studying for. Seems like a waste.

Now we can move onto the timing of finals. If I created my schedule because I wanted to avoid 8:00 a.m. finals at all costs, why is it that I suddenly find myself having 8:00 a.m. finals during finals week? That doesn’t seem right to me. It does not make sense to have those people who have class at 3:05 p.m. come in at 8:00 a.m., while those people (who should be accustomed to going to their 8:00 a.m. class by now) come in for a 2:00 p.m. final. The time change, believe it or not, adds to the stress for many students. Morning classes should have morning finals, and afternoon classes should have afternoon finals. Consistency eases the stress finals create, even if it’s only a little bit.

The next topic of interest is the idea of cumulative finals. Why do we have them? I’m a firm believer that a final exam should be just what it claims to be: a “final” exam, as in the last one you take in the class. Nowhere in the definition of final does it state that it should be longer, harder, and encompass anything and everything you have learned in the class right down to the smallest detail. Finals usually consist of (or it seems like they consist of) about 75 percent of the material you have already learned and were tested on in addition to all the new material from after the last test. The key word is tested (as in the past tense of test). This means it’s already happened; so why should it be brought up again? Cumulative finals are in no way a benefit to students. Most of the time, there is a lot of material to review (or relearn in some cases). Add that to studying any new material that was introduced and you end up with a massive amount of material that would only be vaguely covered to cover everything. How are you supposed to know what to study when you have to study everything?

My next problem with finals is the unfair weight of them in the course breakdown of the grading. Why are finals worth more than anything else? I appreciate the teachers who make it worth about the same as the other tests. I’ll even understand if it’s worth slightly more than an average test. But finals should not be worth any more than that. Why are some of these finals worth 40 or even 50 percent? That makes all of the other work done in the class worth a smaller percentage, even though we ultimately work more on the other assignments (some of which take all semester). We should not be able to completely ruin one grade in one class by taking one final. That’s one possibility that drives students insane this time of year, and it drives the stress levels way up there.

This just supplies my argument that finals should be just another test that we shouldn’t stress anymore about than a usual test. They should be the same length as all of the previous tests, and they should be the same format. They shouldn’t take any longer than normal tests, and they should only cover material that has not already been covered on an exam. They should not raise your blood pressure or cause you to sell a week or two of your life to the library. They shouldn’t be something we dread once the schedule comes out, and they should be roughly around the same time as our class meets. And if your final exam takes the full two hours and more than half the class still has not finished it by the two hour mark, it’s time to reevaluate the type of final you are generating for your students.

I’m sad to say that no matter how much I complain about my finals, I will still have to take them in the end. I’m dreading these next two weeks, because I do have cumulative finals. I do have to say that I’ve had worse semesters in regards to final exams. All I can say is to keep your heads up and to get through these next two weeks as strong as you can. I can already see winter break on the horizon. (I’m sure most of us saw it even before we went home for Thanksgiving.) Stay strong and start early. Try creating a schedule for yourself and talk to your teacher asking for help while you still can. Even though finals are stressful, we can do things to minimize the stress as best we can. Good luck on your exams. Maybe one day they will change the finals policy; but it won’t happen before next week. Happy finals studying everyone.