Final exams are used within the classroom in order to properly gauge one’s knowledge of a particular subject and are usually cumulative. The problem here is that we really are not getting a good look at what the student knows or has learned. Instead, we are testing to see how well one can memorize information. As a recent graduate with an English degree I can tell you first hand that test taking does not: 1) Properly display how much information you really know. 2) Aid you in retaining that information for use in future encounters.
I suppose we really are talking apples and oranges if we don’t specify the difference between multiple choice exams and exams in essay format. When it comes to multiple choice, some knowledge is necessary in order to receive a decent grade. However, hypothetically you could randomly pick every answer and depending on how many choices there are (usually four or five) you have a 20-25% chance of getting each one right. Also there are almost always ridiculously wrong answers embedded within your choices for a question therefore making your odds of getting it right even higher. Even if you know absolutely nothing about the subject there is a chance that you could get every single question right just by guessing. Multiple choice exams aside, ‘real exams’ or essay-formatted exams where you are faced with a blank Blue Book and have nothing but your trusty pen between you and the page are a slightly better but not perfect way to gauge one’s knowledge. OK You arrive at the test and now it’s time to show your professor what you really learned this semester. When it comes to essay exams they definitely accomplish more in terms of displaying what you know or what you have learned thus far since you can write as much as you want. At least if you don’t know the answer to a specific question you can always tip-toe around it by supplying the professor with everything you can remember about it.
Even though I believe these kinds of tests work much better than multiple choice exams, I still don’t believe they are fool-proof. I have gone ill prepared to many exams formatted in such a way and so long as you know what the professor wants to hear you can pretty much finagle your way to an A or at the least a B-. Therefore I have come to the conclusion that final exams can hinder the education process by promoting memorization rather than absorption of information at the time it is taught. Final exams that are cumulative make students go back and re-memorize past information that they have long since forgotten after all the heavy drinking they did throughout the semester. Although essay formatted exams seem to better display one’s overall knowledge of a subject it still hinders the education process because either people are continuing to just memorize information for the test (never to remember it again) or they know nothing and are attempting to pull a fast one on their professor.
In my own personal opinion, an short-essay formatted test given weekly along with papers would allow information to better be retained by the minds of students. Final Exams are never going to go away, but if we prepare students in this particular fashion they may be better prepared to take their final without having to back track to old information and be forced to cram the night before.