By Luke Araujo | Staff Writer
A final exam at Baylor is advertised as an examination that “closes the work of a particular course.” These exams, being the culmination of all that students have learned throughout a semester, usually take up a sizable portion of final semester grades. But should any one assignment be weighted so heavily?
An average semester for a class will include reiterated weekly assignments, quizzes and, of course, exams. Some classes also include projects, discussion boards and readings. With all of these assignments being considered, it seems nonsensical that one exam can dictate whether a student passes or fails a course. However, the concept of a final test holding an inordinate weight on a student’s success is nothing new.
Assessments like the Scholastic Assessment Test (SAT) and American College Test (ACT) have been a way for higher-ups to judge a student’s worth as far back as 1926 and 1959, respectively. And since their inception, they have always been fraught with problems. A student who slacks off all year can put their all into one SAT or ACT and completely skew a college’s perception of them, and vice versa. This creates a stressful culture around these assessments and fails to capture the comprehensive nature they are supposed to encompass.
Final exams work in much of the same way. A student may be exceptional throughout a semester, but if an end-of-the-semester burn kicks in or they face any sort of trouble with a final exam’s material, their final grade will plummet.
I am not advocating for the replacement of final exams — far from it. I do think it’s important to reevaluate the weight placed on final exams in a grading context, as it fosters a mindset focused on preparing for final exams rather than engaging with class material.
There are alternative forms of final assignments that are not exams, such as projects or essays, but these formats come with their own issues. Therefore, I do not think that the content of final exams is the issue. Rather, the issue with final exams comes with the amount of importance placed on a single assignment, detracting from the other integral aspects of what a student has learned through the course.
The solution may be to simply bring final exams down to the level of midterms, or it may be to find a middle ground. Final exams are a hotbed of stress and competition, and it is time to look inward and ask why we have created these sources of stress in the first place.