By Hayley Siegle
As June approaches and the weather begins to get warmer, students begin to experience spring fever. When the bell rings at 2:25 pm on Monday, June 13th and school is dismissed, the students will rush the hallways in excitement for the summer ahead of them. However, on that Monday afternoon, they are really just getting started…
The following day, Monday, June 14th marks the beginning of a two-week long period in which the students take their finals and Regents. Is this two-week period of time worth the stress and anxiety it causes students? Are finals a necessary evil or should they be eliminated completely?
Finals are often administered at the end of the year because teachers simply want to measure what their students have learned over the past 10 months or so. Additionally, final exams create an important cumulative review of course content and allows students to practice applying concepts that have been learned earlier in the year. Finals typically force students to revisit concepts, terminology, and other course-related material, which in the long run gives students a better understanding of what they have been learning. In fact, students tend to benefit from a larger perspective containing the “bigger picture,” having been exposed to the entire course when going back and reviewing material from earlier in the semester. Studying for finals increases one’s retention of the knowledge gained earlier on in the year, which can benefit them when they continue onto college, work, etc. Aside from the beneficial studying that finals force students to partake in, more often than not, a student who knows that they are going to have to take a final at the end of the course is more likely to be motivated to retain knowledge throughout the semester. This can trigger certain behaviors like attending class 100% of the time, studying for all tests and exams, or even just paying closer attention in class throughout the year.
Mrs. Wagner, an English teacher at Byram Hills, explained, “It is just like sports. You practice practice and do drills during the practices but on game day, that’s the time you have to apply all that you have learned. There is also a thrill that comes from competition and a sense of pride that comes with the successes, but even when you do fail, that is when you learn the most. In English class, I teach skills of communication, analysis, and critical thinking; all of which are skills that students use and will continue to use in their everyday lives, whether it is buying a house, negotiating your salaries, or scheduling an internship. When you’re in college, these are skill you use all of the time.” Mrs. Wagner adds that she has a responsibility to help her students learn and feels strongly about giving her students a chance to actually shine and demonstrate all their knowledge. Additionally, she explained that she tries to make sure that her students know that even if it’s an exam in the middle of the year that she teaches in a way in which certain skills build upon the others. Finally, she noted that she does not like that the students do not get to see their actual work from their final exam and don’t have an opportunity to reflect upon it, but still feels that it is a worthwhile exercise.
Especially on the high school level, finals help to prepare students for testing in college. It is more common that when a student is in elementary school or middle school that they have multiple quizzes or small tests per week that do not have as large of an impact on their grade individually. However, as students get older, it is more common for them to experience having fewer and fewer tests. Perhaps, in college, on may only have a midterm and a final each semester. That being said, these tests carry a much greater weight when it comes to a student’s final grades. Therefore, students in high school should take the opportunity of having finals to practice studying and preparing for larger exams which are likely to come in their future. Mrs. Montalbano, a biology teacher here at Byram, agrees and believes that “if there is no assessment like state administered tests that are cumulative assessments of what the students have learned throughout the year, then they should take a final.” Further, she explained, “This is important because in college, students have large tests and this is a good opportunity to practice this skill.”
Some schools and certain subjects offer an exemption from finals if a student meets certain requirements. For instance, here at Byram Hills High School, juniors and seniors can place out of their finals if they receive all A’s throughout the year in a foreign language. Therefore, this essential “threat” of having to take a final motivates students to work that much harder throughout the year to obtain certain grades so that when it comes time for the final, they do not have to take it. This encourages students to work harder, study, and to do both their classwork and homework, deterring them from missing class, being lazy, and falling behind.
At this point, many may feel that it is a good idea to administer finals and that there is really no reason not to. However, this may or may not be the case. So, why shouldn’t students have to take finals?
Firstly, finals incite fear, panic, stress, and anxiety in even the most diligent of students. Everything about final exams is associated with terror: weeks of studying; piles of review books; the clock ticking on the wall during the exam; three daunting hours to give it all you’ve got; and grade point averages waiting in anticipation to see if they are going to change for better or for worse. As finals approach, stressed students begin to find themselves cramming late at night in order for them to cover all of the material they have learned throughout the year. High levels of stress, and late nights spent cramming can only lead to poor grades. Additionally, finals are quite daunting to students because of how dramatically they can affect one’s grades. For instance, a student who has hardly been working all year long, but does really well on the final can potentially receive a better final grade for the course than a student who has been putting in an immense amount of work and time spent studying throughout the year, who cracks under pressure and does poorly on the test.
Secondly, final exams also put a lot of stress and hard work in the hands of many teachers. Often times as the spring approaches, teachers begin to realize just how much is left to teach. While this could certainly be a positive thing for teachers who realize that they are near the end of the curriculum, those who still have a lot to teach begin to panic. “How am I going to teach all of this material in such a short time?” races through the heads of many teachers as finals week creeps up on them. Not only does this cause teachers stress, but it also forces them to either cram the students with material or cut the curriculum short a bit. Either way this does not benefit the students who are going to be taking the final exam in a few short weeks. Additionally, grading final exams is often very hectic for teachers as they have very little time to do vigorous grading as grades are due by a specific deadline. In fact, after all of this time is spent grading, the students do not even see their results nor get an opportunity to reflect upon their work. So is this actually a waste of time for teachers?
Lastly, why spend so much time reviewing and preparing for the final when the students can be learning new material? Often, the last few days or even weeks of class time are spent doing packets reviewing the same material numerous times, while this valuable time can be spent teaching new material, increasing students’ knowledge on things they do not know about.
Freshman Dylan Starker explained, “I do not believe that finals are necessary because it is too much for the students. Most times, students will have to prepare for a stressful test that covers the whole year’s material in almost all of their academic subjects. I agree with the fact that there must be a measurement to grade each student’s final understanding and knowledge, however, a large test is not the answer. Teachers should look towards assessing their students with some sort of big, end of the year project that can display their knowledge. Part of the process is also measuring a student’s study habits. Therefore, an alternative, such as a project, could show how much effort different students put in, while still judging their knowledge of their information.”
So, what do you think? Are finals a necessary evil or should they be eliminated? Are we testing students fairly and properly, or is there a better answer?