High school final exams, usually occurring at the end of semesters, have long been held as sacrosanct. Yet the process may not be indicative of what was actually learned by students. Additionally, some schools and systems place an inordinately high value on such examinations, often resulting in dramatic grade shifts that my not reflect realistic student performance and progress. Final examinations all occur at the same time of year, allowing for minimal study time and far too much “cramming.” The pressures put on teachers and students may not balance the reasons given for such tests.
Final Examinations May Not be an Accurate Predictor of Learning
Some classes will require final examinations because they are mandated by individual state requirements and standards. These “end-of-grade” tests assess not only overall student progress but compare results between schools. Similarly, every May sees the administration of the Advanced Placement exams, a requirement if students seek college credit for the course. And a lot of students need to write my paper like an essay or coursework at the same time.
Mandating final examinations for other courses, however, may not serve a useful purpose. In most cases, teachers themselves create these exams. Frequently, there is no consistency between teachers with the same subject classes. Some teachers earnestly seek to devise a thorough summary of semester work while others merely cut and paste already given tests and quizzes. Ultimately, most tests are created to fulfill the mandate rather than to assess learning.
Valuation of the final examination is also a problem. Some schools count a final exam as 20% of the semester grade. Poorly constructed exams may decrease overall student scores to the detriment of grade point averages. A typical “B” student may end with a “C” or worse only because the examination itself was a flawed document.
Timing and Pressure of Final Exams
Final exams are always given at the same time, usually spread out over a week. Students taking a “full load” of classes find themselves cramming until late hours in order to pass the exams with good scores. The added pressure often affects realistic performance levels and contributes to student stress, particularly among students at the very top tier and those in danger of failing.
Some systems schedule first semester final examinations after the usual Christmas break period. This is an irrational policy that only serves the purpose of scheduling. Educators know that long intervals between learned materials causes decay. No amount of reinforcement exercises or “exam review” will make up for long periods separating exams from actual classroom instruction.
Tinkering With Examination Fairness
Schools often “reward” students with an “A” average or with perfect attendance records by exempting them from taking semester exams. In some instances, so-called “senior privileges” are tied to the taking of final exams. Given the fact that semester examinations carry inordinate weight, this type of policy further imposes an unfair and punitive burden on those students that are required to sit for the exam. If final examinations contribute to the general statistics assessing semester instruction and help to evaluate whether or not expectations and outcomes have been achieved, then no exemptions should be made.
Final examinations on the high school level should be revisited. Far too many negative variables contribute to the current process. High schools are not “little colleges” and need to redefine their academic priorities in the light of realistic expectations. In most cases, final exams add little to the desired achievements and expectations published in course syllabi or course descriptions and outlines.