Finals: What’s the Point of it all?
Issue   |   Wed, 12/04/2013 - 00:47

It is unfortunate how the process of learning and the academic calendar are so out of sync. Learning is continuous and gradual, whereas academic pressure fluctuates and spikes sharply, typically in the months of December and May. Out of this dissonance, emerges the stress of finals.

Nonetheless, the College might consider some ways to alleviate this stress. For example, departments could stagger their scheduling of finals, so majors are less likely to be overwhelmed by back-to-back exams. Perhaps, professors may consider reducing the weight of finals in the overall grades they assign. The tremendous weight of finals in terms of grading encourages a poor work ethic that results in cramming rather than consistency and in fewer opportunities for positive reinforcement of more mundane, but arguably more important tasks, such as attending and engaging in lectures.

The grading system places too much emphasis on assessment and too little on cultivating a relationship between students and professors. Grades should not be a way for professors to judge students, to punish and reward, but rather a mechanism to communicate to students their strengths and areas for improvement. Rather than placing so much weight on a single examination at the end of the course, this would be better accomplished by smaller but more frequent assignments, which would provide more opportunities for students to receive and integrate feedback.

Ultimately, every student ends up asking, overwhelmed by stress, what is the point of it all? But this is a legitimate question. What is the purpose of finals? The timing of final exams and the end of the semester is well suited for assessment. This same timing, however, makes very little sense in terms of intellectual growth. Students rarely receive feedback on their final exams and, in any case, have very little incentive to respond to any feedback. This is unfortunate because while finals will soon be over, learning never will.

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