While both dreaded and reviled, final exams are useful in reinforcing what has been taught through the term, one final time. A student in a class where a great deal of information has been taught could actually benefit from a final comprehensive exam: it forces the student to look back and earlier information that may have become dusty over the course of the term. Just because material from the first weeks or months was covered in previous tests doesn’t mean it should be abandoned as the class comes to an end. Classes in mathematics, for example, likely have built upon that earlier material. It only makes sense to combine both the foundation topics as well as the advanced topics in a final exam, making sure the student really does understand how they got to where they are. That is not to say that every class should have a final exam (many literature classes, for example, don’t have that same gradual ascension of ideas and so there is no real need to combine earlier and later material). However, there are many types of classes where understanding all the material is crucial and a good way to make sure it is all reinforced is by using a final exam.
As to the argument that final exams put undue pressure on students and that futures hinge on their outcome, it seems that there is only as much pressure as the student allows there to be and that, while a failing final exam might lower a good grade, a passing grade on that same test could just as well raise a mediocre grade. While some pressure and stress is to be expected, if a student has done well in the class up to that point, there is no reason to think that student will not do well on the final exam. If a student has not been doing so well, a final exam presents the incentive to do the studying or get the help he or she might need. There are, most likely, many people who have gone into a final exam with an A and come out with a B; there is no argument regarding that. However, there are also plenty of people where the inverse is true. A final exam is often the most important of the class, but it need not be seen as some terrible monster. With a little responsibility and a touch of planning a final exam can be a perfect opportunity to tie everything together and leave the classroom on a high note.