Are Final Exams Really Necessary?

June 2017 (Volume 67, Issue 4)

By Emma Patz, Entertainment Editor

As the school year crawls to a finish, students across the country are scrambling to recall an entire year’s worth of information in order to spit it out on a final exam. The grueling process is a right of passage for high schoolers and college students alike- but are final exams actually the best way for educators to gauge how much their students have learned by the end of the year?  Harvard University doesn’t think so. According to Harvard Magazine, in 2010, only 23% of Harvard’s 1,137 undergraduate classes administered final exams.

Harvard is not the only college who is taking the steps towards less final exams. On Indiana University-Bloomington, and Worcester Polytechnic Institute’s websites, there are lists of alternatives to final exams, such as; short, more frequent quizzes, oral presentations, creative projects, and more. If institutions such as Harvard, Indiana University, and Worcester Polytechnic are stepping back from final exams, high school educators should be following suit.

A Chicago high school teacher exclaims in the Chicago Post his criticism of final exams. One of his complaints being which there are no situations in the “real” world in which one must sit down and take a test of all their knowledge on a subject where they are not in school, or are training for a position. Another criticism is that bad test takers are at risk of tanking their grades while knowing the material, when at the same time good test takers could be boosting their grades without knowing the material. This could create an unfair advantage for certain students.

Along with being an inadequate measure of the amount of knowledge of students for the entire year, final exams can lead to risky, and dangerous behavior. The National Survey on Drug and Health use released a study in April of 2009 stating that 7% of full time college students ages 18-22 misuse Adderall- a drug typically used to treat ADHD. Adderall helps people focus, and stay awake- a perfect combination for students to cram before their finals. Long term abuse of Adderall can lead to addiction, seizures, paranoia, and mixed with alcohol-even death (drugabuse.com). An article from The Maneater also claims that sleep deprivation and poor eating occur during final exam week. The culmination of these behaviors are great for short term memory, but do not help students retain long-term information.

As Needham High School prepares for finals week, educators and administration should keep in mind the purpose of final exams- to see if students have retained the information from the year. This could easily be shown in other mediums such as projects or presentations, which would most likely result in less unhealthy and dangerous behavior during finals week. Top institutions such as Harvard University have already taken the initiative to decrease final exams. Therefore, students at Needham High School would benefit more intellectually from a diverse set of options to exhibit their knowledge.

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