As nerve-wracking as they are for students, as much work as they are for teachers and as much as they are hated by both groups, final exams do serve several worthwhile purposes.
Students, especially those in high school and beyond, dread final exams. Well, perhaps not actually taking the exam; that entails only a few hours of thinking and writing. It’s the period of time leading up to the exam that is bothersome. In order to do well, there must be a period of intensive study.
Final exams usually take place in the Spring. The long, cold winter is over at last, the weather is warm, the birds are singing and the outside world urgently beckons.The student must discipline herself or himself to ignore the tempting summons and devote hours to focused study for the upcoming exams.
Why? Here’s the rationale: usually the teacher will introduce a topic to the class, teach it as thoroughly as possible and then test the students’ knowledge at the end of that unit of work. Consolidation often consists of projects or group work in which individual contributions are difficult to assess. A student who is artistic may produce beautiful illustrations and yet have little knowledge of the core information.
A few more months pass and as time for the finals approach, the students
must review the material in a serious manner and try to memorize some of it. This is when it will become fixed in their minds for life.
Quick now! Can you remember the causes of World War II? If so, it’s probably because of the intensive study in which you engaged preparing for a final exam.
Teachers also hate final exams, although they do not receive as much sympathy as the young people; at least they get paid for their efforts.
First, the exam must be set. It must cover all or most of the important items in the grade’s curriculum. The “average” student must be able to complete it within a set period of time. Often the principal or department head will ask to inspect it beforehand. And, that’s the easy part.
After the exams are completed, they must be marked. Imagine having about thirty multi-page exams to mark, and that is only for teachers who have responsibility for one class. Some high school teachers have five or more classes.
Assigning marks must be considered carefully, because the teacher may have to justify his decisions to parents who will confront him later because they had expected their child to do better. Accurate marking is a stressful activity for conscientious teachers.
Final exams then, serve the following useful purposes:
(A.) They give the student and the parents an accurate assessment of the student’s academic performance for that year.
(B.) They highlight subjects which are weak, and which may need increased effort the following year.
(C.) They may help to indicate a possible future career choice. Is he strong in Mathematics and Science? He may be a doctor, accountant or scientist. Is she strong in English and History? She may be a teacher, a politician or an author of historical fiction.
(D.) Final exams give the teacher an instrument for judging his success during the previous year. If most of his students did well, he can be satisfied with a job well done.
If he feels that improvements are needed in his program, he has the summer to research and plan better methods of delivering it next year.
(E.) They provide one more benefit for the enrichment of both groups, students and teachers. They enhance the enjoyment of the summer holidays. After weeks of focused attention and intensive efforts required to deal with final exams, the exuberant freedom of vacation time is all the more welcome and pleasurable.
Participating in outdoor activities in fresh air and bright sunshine, long, lazy days relaxing with friends, enjoying real-life experiences outside the halls of academia, forming closer bonds with friends and family members, all these activities are more enjoyable after the structure and pressure imposed by final exams.
And after all, in the grand scheme of things, who can say for sure which of these endeavours is more important ?