In response to the April 4 editorial “Comprehensive finals get an F for effectiveness,” I would encourage the author of the editorial to dig deeper and consider research about the effectiveness of comprehensive exams. For instance, findings of two recent studies by Natalie Lawrence (2013) and Szpunar, McDermott, and Roediger (2007) indicate that simply preparing for cumulative finals results in improved retention of material, especially if students have already been tested on that material in a midterm examination earlier in the semester. Indeed, this “retesting” method discourages cramming for a one-time “brain dump” because the student knows that he or she will see the material again on a cumulative exam. Moreover, the repetition improves long-term retention.
Final exams are stressful, and I doubt you will find any student who says he or she likes taking them. However, just because you don’t like something doesn’t mean it isn’t effective, and just because Harvard has done away with a particular practice doesn’t mean that every university needs to.
– Rebecca Flavin, lecturer in the political science department