Final exams can sometimes make or break a student. Having been through 8 years of college and after teaching lab classes and general lectures to freshmen, I believe that the final exam, when used correctly, can definitely help a teen’s education. It is up to the teacher though, to provide the correct kind of testing and assessment to their class.
The final exam forces a person to review everything that they have learned during the year (or semester). A well-written exam challenges them to look at the topic on a grander scale and see if they can make connections between the seemingly disjointed information that was presented throughout the course. This is important especially in the sciences and mathematics. These things build on themselves and to understand the more difficult concepts, it is imperative to understand the basic rules and foundations. The only way to determine if a student has grasped these larger concepts is by testing them on all of the material from the class.
However, teachers should be admonished to write their exams so that they do test for these larger thought processes, and not for nit-picky little details from the readings, notes and lectures. For example, I do not think it is necessary to memorize the dates and places that important things happen unless one is considering history. I think it is more important that a student understand, say, Darwinian evolution and how the theory came about, rather than what year his manuscript was published. It is more important to understand how to do standard deviations and how to apply them in the real world, than to know who came up with them and when.
With that said, I also do not agree with how some teachers weigh the final exam. Significant homework, papers, readings and class participation should be given the proper amount of consideration in determining a student’s grade and understanding of the subject. There are many kids who have a difficult time retaining information in stressful situations. A final exam should not be worth more than 30 percent of the final grade; one test should be able to bring a student into range of failing when he or she has completed all of the work throughout the year successfully, even if it’s only average work.
The world is made up of many types of people with very different learning styles, and although teachers do not get paid enough and they are overworked already, it is still their job to provide a test that will help, and not hinder, their students’ education.