Lariat Letter: Comprehensive finals can help, only if done right

By Felipe Donaldson

I am writing to comment on “Comprehensive finals get an F for effectiveness”, published April 4.

With my personal experience as a junior in college, as well as a transfer student, I feel that the issue at hand with regards to the comprehensive final should begin with the first quiz at the beginning of the semester.

The main goal of a comprehensive final is to test students on the material that they studied throughout the semester, and apply that information in one final, cumulative exam.

If this is the case, then I believe that a remedy to the situation is an evaluation of the quizzes and the material that is taught leading up to that comprehensive exam.

For example, most quizzes that I have personally taken in my three years of study do not cover material that will slowly accumulate to a broader understanding of the subject, but only test how well certain words and definitions in the assigned readings were memorized.

In addition, there is very little, if any, application of the material that is taught leading up to the comprehensive final.

As a result, the material that is learned throughout the semester is all but forgotten after each individual quiz is given, and by the end of the semester, only the most recently learned information is actually remembered for the comprehensive final.

Because of this, the comprehensive final becomes a “cramming” exercise for students, and not a brief refresher of the material that should be easily recalled, had they properly understood the subject at hand.

A situation like this, in my opinion, calls for a closer analysis of the structure of the curriculum and how each quiz and individual will aid in the understanding of the subject, and not in simple memorization of terms that the textbooks have emphasized in bold.

If students come to the end of the semester with a proper understanding of the concepts that their professors are teaching, then the issues of a comprehensive final would not be a stressful experience.

Indeed, the cumulative exam could be a reliable measure of a student’s skills, but only if the student properly understands what they were taught.

In that respect, the more important issue at hand is not the effectiveness of the comprehensive final; it’s the effectiveness of how knowledge is taught to the students.

– Felipe Donaldson
Pamona, Cali., junior