It’s traditional on most college campuses to devote the last few weeks of the semester to final exams — cumulative tests that make sure a student has absorbed everything taught over the past few months.
However, there are people — other than students subjected to days and weeks of studying — who believe that finals can be better, both as a means of assessment and something more in keeping with the broader aims of academia.
Here are three ways for schools to improve final exams:
Switch Up The Format
Something that’s been trending in academia for a while is a move away from traditional blue book multi-hour final exams.
University of Winnipeg history professor Janis Thiessen writes, “alternatives to traditional paper-and-pencil testing should not be considered ‘alternatives’ but as central methods of assessing students.”
Additionally, the UC Berkeley website cites a book on classroom assessment techniques that notes testing should be “context-specific,” and “ the assessment technique is chosen to fit the subject matter and the needs of the particular class.”
The Berkeley website offers up some ways for teachers to move past traditional testing methods, including some more practical ideas — like creating peer reviewed posters or sending in an Op-Ed to a local newspaper — that give students real world experience.
Stop Encouraging Students To Study
This one might be a little more theoretical, but some educators believe that it’s counterintuitive to ask students to study for final exams. As University of North Florida professor David Jaffe notes, “this simple and familiar phrase — ‘study for exams’ — … actually encourages student behaviours and dispositions that work against the larger purpose of human intellectual development and learning.”
According to Jaffe, final exams are the worst offenders.
“This collective exercise in sadism encourages students to cram everything that they think they need to ‘know’ (temporarily for the exam) into their brains, deprive themselves of sleep and leisure activities, complete (or more likely finally start) term papers, and memorize mounds of information,” he writes in the Chronicle of Higher Education.
Chicago high school teacher Ray Salazar offers a more practical take on finals’ failings. “By the time students find out if they were wrong or right, it doesn’t matter! Grades are in. Report cards are printed. Students have moved on,” Salazar writes in ChicagoNow.
Bring Adorable Animals To Campus
Another growing trend on colleges is the introduction of “therapy dogs” and other animals on campus to help students de-stress before taking an exam. “Studies show that interaction with animals lowers blood pressure, reduces anxiety, improves physical and mental health and gives a feeling of well-being,” according to UC Berkeley.
“You can release some of the emotions to a pet that you can’t to a human. A pet keeps it confidential. You don’t have to worry about someone else saying, ‘Oh, I think she’s having a nervous breakdown over the science exam,” a researcher at Harvard told the Associated Press.
While most of the animals that come for finals are dogs, Cornell Law School has made a semi-tradition of bringing in a llama to help students de-stress.
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