I read with interest your editorial “Comprehensive finals get an F for effectiveness,” on April 4. I have no doubt you are right when you say students complain about them, and that many students consider college simply as a means to employment. You are also correct that some students do poorly on final exams because “students never learned the material in the first place.” You are exactly and completely wrong, however, in your conclusion that final exams contribute to this “instrumentalism.”
Students and professors often have different educational goals. Professors want students to learn the material in a meaningful way. Students want to earn a high grade with minimal effort. Those two goals don’t often align, but there are some things we can do to increase the alignment. In a recent, far-ranging review article, John Dunlosky and his colleagues evaluated the empirical evidence regarding the effectiveness of a number of common study techniques like highlighting, underlining, and re-reading. Only two techniques were considered highly effective: frequent testing and distributed study (rather than massed study, or “cramming”). Ironically, rather than being the cause of “instrumentalism,” comprehensive final exams are perhaps the single most effective solution to the problem.
Baylor faculty are noted for our interest in and dedication to undergraduate education. Our president and provost commit significant university resources to the issue of effective classroom teaching. Institutions like Baylor’s Academy for Teaching and Learning, directed by Dr. Lenore Wright, are but one tangible example of this commitment. As professors and educators, we share your rejection of the concept of an education as simply a means to a job, and we also share your disdain of shallow, superficial learning. We do all we can to discourage short-term memorization for a single test in favor of learning techniques that promote deep, meaningful, long-term learning. However, the one example you chose to criticize, comprehensive final exams, is one of our most effective techniques for minimizing rote memorization.
Dr. Charles A. Weaver III is a professor of psychology and neuroscience and director of the undergraduate studies department.