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Point-Counter Point Anti: Prioritizing Learning Over Test Performance

By Jemima Schoen

Published in the June 3, 2022 Issue

Finals make sense, in theory. After all, of course, we want to reinforce the material students have learned throughout the year, hold students accountable, and make sure that students are being taught the necessary material. However, finals do not tend to be beneficial—and can even be detrimental—in practice. 

Firstly, finals cause a large amount of stress for students concerned with their grades. This reaction makes sense, given the import that the school gives to these exams: ten percent of each student’s grade for the entire year! When so much pressure is placed on one test, the outcomes will undoubtedly reflect the anxiety and concern that students face throughout the process. 

Even the way that finals are organized can spawn failure before students walk through the doors of the school on finals day. The current finals schedule is a bombardment of test after test, with no class time to review in between. With this structure, a student could potentially have a final up to a week after their last class in its subject. This year, students face an even greater issue, as Shavuot falls out in between regular school and finals week, adding further constraints to this time frame. After such separation from the material, students are asked to go into school on their own and take two tests a day on a wide breadth of concepts with minimal preparation time in between. Therefore, in effect, the finals become a memory game where students must fend for themselves rather than an opportunity to gauge a student’s understanding rather than their test-taking aptitude.

In effect, the finals become a memory game where students must fend for themselves.

Another fundamental problem with the structure of finals is that a student’s performance on one day determines ten percent of their overall grade for the year. This one-day format opens students’ performance on finals up to so many factors that may simply be specific to the day of the test; a bad morning, a headache, a lost pencil, an inability to stay within time restraints, and more could reduce the score of students who otherwise grasp the tested material well. The fact that students are expected to demonstrate all that they have learned throughout the year in one specified hour is almost laughable. 

Instead, students’ degree of knowledge and learning from throughout the year should be measured cumulatively, subject by subject, and with ample time towards the end of the year. Classes give tests throughout the year, so students get their dose of traditional testing through that pathway. What students really need is a way to demonstrate their proficiency that will not subject them to the confounding variables of stress, anxiety, or whatever chaos may happen on a given day. It would be much more reasonable to assess students’ understanding of core concepts with a project, with a reasonable amount of work time allotted and a clear connection to the lessons taught in the class. It should be up to teachers whether or not students can work in partners. Although this might be a concern if teachers want to know what each student knows individually, collaborative efforts can be beneficial and comforting for students, so it would be up to the teacher to weigh the pros and cons of those choices. The main strength of this project-based final is that if it were implemented, students would not feel as stressed and could have many days to complete their assessment, no matter what craziness they may be confronting in their day-to-day lives. 

When examined from the perspective of the student, finals are blatantly flawed in how they are administered and treated by teachers and administrators. With the rise of project-based learning models and increased consideration of students’ mental health, our methods of end-of-year assessments must evolve. Traditional, sit-down timed finals, with all of their pressure and dread-inducement, are not progression but regression, and we must work to rid ourselves of the archaic notion that a test can fully demonstrate the scope of understanding and focus of a student. Prioritizing knowledge over traditional performance is essential to this fight.

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