Having just graduated from high school myself, I have to say, the final exam is just about the biggest waste of academic time I have ever encountered. Because a student’s grade hinges around this final exam, teachers are forced to give up 2-3 weeks of valuable time to re-teach the entire course, so that whatever tiny tidbits the State might feel like testing students on won’t get left out. These final exams are bulky, time-wasting, and generally negative towards students.
When I say these exams are bulky, I mean they average 100-200 questions, if not more. These questions may be devided into parts (Advanced Placement (AP) classes have around 60-80, depending on the course, as well as a variety of essay questions), and can be extremely challenging. But that’s not the problem. The problem is that the test-writers write the tests to trick the students, and force the students to think in ways that are counter-productive the the learning process. Students have to spend valuable class time learning how to “think for standardized testing.” I would know, I’ve been there… valuable time, hours per week, is spent learning about how sometimes a right answer is wrong, and how sometimes all of the answers are right, but you have to pick the _best_ answer… Even though what the test writer thinks is the best answer might not fit with what a student was taught.
But beyond that, these exams are nothing but a waste of time. Aside from the 3 hours allotted for each final exam, students waste an average of 450 class minutes per semester “reviewing,” which basically consists of one huge cram session, trying to relearn the entire course. That’s 7 and a half hours that could be better spent learning something actually useful, rather than standardized test practice. For example, in a computer class, my teacher had to waste time explaining to the class that any State exam questions that mentioned the HTML “src” attribute would be wrong, and we should assume “src” stood for “search,” when any HTML coder knows that it stands for “source.”
Even worse, an aspect that touches the heart. All across the country, “special needs” students are no longer being taught the life skills they need to live a pseudo-normal life… instead, they are now force-fed information, and being forced to perform on standardized tests. What is more important for a special needs student – learning to live, or learning about Shakespeare? Granted, Shakespeare is an extremely important lesson that all school children should learn… but sometimes, standardized testing is hurting in ways that nobody considered when they made the laws.
The tests are beyond negative though. They force students into alternative schools of thought, where free thinking and open mindedness provoke incorrect answers. They force students to attempt to think like the test creators, and to guess what overly-opiniated or poorly written answer is deemed “correct.” Students have less time for labs, and hands-on activities, because standardized testing takes front row. If physics students cannot experiment first-hand with the forces of gravity, how can they visualize such problems on tests?
Overall, final exams are a grave danger to students. Coming from the mind of someone with a 4.5 AP test average (maximum possible being 5), that is not something to be overlooked… These tests are taking away from students time, they are hurting students with special needs, and forcing students to learn to read the minds of test creators, rather than solving problems their own ways.