As a Business, Marketing and Communications Major at Westfield State University, Adriana Judkins understands as well as any other student the stress of final exams.
“It’s either been work, class, or studying. I’ve barely even had time to sleep,” she says.
Adriana is one of millions of students across the country in the midst of these finals, which are often worth a large percentage of a student’s grade and may even determine whether a student passes or fails a course.
Although examinations have existed as a part of the college curriculum since the 17th century, it was not until the 1830s that Yale and Harvard began introducing written final exams as a way of testing large numbers of students at once.
In recent years, the concept of final examinations has fallen out of favor with higher institutions. Adriana has a theory as to why.
“They aren’t a true representation of how you do throughout the entire semester,” she says.
Robert Bangert-Drowns, dean of the school of education at the University of Albany SUNY, agrees.
“If you looked at a lot of final exams in courses you’d think, ‘This is not a very valuable standard,’” Bangert-Drowns told the Boston Globe. “These tests ask the kind of questions that students may never be asked again in their lives, in detail that they may never be asked again in their lives.”
Although the actual content found within final exams may be questionable, they also have the potential to stimulate learning through the review of previously covered topics and concepts.
However, it has also been found that students better retain information when given regular, smaller tests, rather than cumulative finals.
Linda Serra Hagedorn, a professor at Iowa State University and president-elect of the Association for the Study of Higher Education, attributes this to the continuous process of learning that accompanies regular testing, as opposed to the cramming style of study that is popular with larger exams.
“With final exams, it’s study, study, study. Take the exam — and now it’s gone. Move on,” said Hagedorn in the same Globe Report. “The better approach is to have a more holistic approach to learning where it’s smaller increments, where one learns in steadier and smaller increments.”
Students are often forced to find ways to cope with added stress during examination periods. Michael Harding, a sophomore at Bridgewater State University, has found solace in music.
“I listen to way more music during finals week than I usually do,” Harding says. “It just relaxes me and helps me get my head together, and then I can keep the information in my mind and do better on my tests.”
Although schools seem to be slowly trending away from traditional exams in favor of projects and more personal evaluations, the change is gradual.
However, Adriana hopes that future generations of students will be judged by something other than a single test.
“Students go to college to learn all types of different specialties,” she said. “By testing them all in the same manner, schools are doing them a disservice.”