Final exams hinder the education process. I am a retired mathematics high school teacher with over 35 years of experience and have also been an assistant adjunct professor on the university level. The extreme stress level of taking final exams, and especially comprehensive 4 year exams for a university, caused me to have test anxiety as I tried to regurgitate what the teacher or professor thought important. My mind went blank and no amount of deep breathing exercises nor relaxation techniques seemed to help. Every trick, such as starting with a question that I obviously knew the answer to, also was no help. The exam certainly didn’t show the knowledge that I possessed nor how long and hard I had studied. Thank goodness for a college advisor who had experienced the same malady; she allowed me to sit and talk to her about my expertise and, in such a relaxed setting, I passed with “flying colors”!
When teaching geometry, my students retained more of the structure of the course by “creating their own geometry” under specific guidelines. This certainly took longer to prepare, demonstrate using non-Euclidean geometries, and grade than a traditional final exam. However, many years afterward I had former students seek me out when they came to “back to school” night with their CHILDREN [see I told you I was old!], and comment on how much they recalled from their projects.
Projects like these can be more meaningful, fun and exciting for an AP calculus class as well as for a lower level General Math class. In a history class, part of the fun would be to make each decade in American History “come alive” with jazz being played, flapper costumes and zoot suits, students acting out or dancing, etc. for the Roaring Twenties for example. English classes can have students do creative writing or make a power point presentation of their interpretation of a poem or essay. Foreign language classes can do a power point presentation of a “trip” to a region of their country with suggestions for sites a traveler must see or offer a taped list of words to know if someone is travel bound. Spanish classes could have entire programs around Cinco de Mayo, bringing in special foods. The language classes can also visit elementary schools at the end of the year to introduce younger students to foreign language words without translations…i.e. pronouncing the word “tete” or “cabeza” and writing the word on a whiteboard while touching the top of the head. In this way the students get the idea of what the word means without having to translate, they instead think in the foreign language. There can also be tables in the cafeteria set aside during the final weeks of school so that Spanish is spoken only at one table, French at another, with teachers being moderators to see if the students have really learned the language.
In short, there is so much a creative teacher can do to make learning interesting. We have too much read-learn-test-retest type of classes. There is more that can be done to make students pull coursework together at the end of the year other than final exams. Also, many teachers use multiple choice [multiple guess] final exams because they don’t have the time at the end of a busy school year to test and grade comprehensively. Final exams do not take into account the different learning styles of students and are therefore slanted to a non-hands on learner.
All of the above is why I feel that final exams hinder the educational process.