Final Exams: We've all done them, but what purpose do they really serve? Some people will say that they are a key to measuring what a student has learned, others will say that is nonsense. What do you say?
Some students like exams, others "not so much".
There has been an increasing push by some in the education field to get rid of traditional exams. They argue that it is not fair to all students, as everybody learns differently. They say that there should be other ways to measure what a student has learned, not just tests, midterms and final exams.
It is also argued that it is unfair to students whose first language is not English, and to others who are not good with time constraints. Students will tell you that they feel the pressure at exam time, and an off day should not be a measure of the entire semester.
All of these arguments are valid, but does that mean that we should get rid of exams? Too many times in society, we just want to "trash" the old methods and replace them with new ones. However, as you will see below, exams still have their place and purpose. It is possible to modify the way we give and use exams as a measure of what we learned, without replacing them with other (sometimes unproven) evaluation methods.
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Benefits of Exams - High School and Beyond
Exams can have many benefits. Here are a list of some of the top ones.
Gives students an accurate way of self-measuring what they learned and what was taught
Can boost the self-esteem of students who do well after studying hard
Rewards students who put in the effort to prepare for exams
Gives the teacher feedback on which units to emphasize going forward (where students struggled)
Is less subjective than some other methods of evaluation (the most misbehaved student can score high on an exam to prove their knowledge)
Teaches self-discipline and organizational skills and perseverance to give students life skills for their future
Adds another method to the evaluation process
Ways to Use Exams Better in Evaluation
Exams can be used better to evaluate students by allowing the teacher to assign the value (%) of their final grade dedicated to the exam.
In my school (about 5 years ago), it was determined by grade level rather than subject. So, a grade 11 or 12 course had to have an exam which was worth at least 30% of the final grade. That was great for math, but not so great for art or music or woodshop.
Since then, the school has allowed either a final exam, project, or other form of evaluation (interview, music or drama performance, etc) to be used as 30% of the final grade (replacing the exam).
So, if we simply call a final exam other terms, such as a final evaluation, we can replace it with a performance, project or other large assignment which will culminate all the learning in that course. That is certainly a better way to use an "exam" in evaluation. Also, giving the teacher the flexibility to alter the 30% weighting (or whatever weighting is used in your school district), will also result in tailoring this final evaluation to the course it is measuring.
"Exams are only one method, but an important part, of the total evaluation of a student." – High School Teacher
Types of Exams, Written and Other
The following is a list of the various types of exams which can be given, depending on the subject, student, and educational setting:
Written Exam Questions (Math, Sciences, Social Science, History, Geography, etc)
Written Exam Scantron - Multiple Choice (various courses)
Oral Exam (language course)
Physical Testing Exam (Phys. Ed. course)
Physical Project (Woodworking, Manufacturing, Art, etc)
Performance Exam (Drama, Music)
Digital Project Exam (computer courses, architecture, graphic design)
Skilled Task Exam (automotive...changing oil, brakes, etc)
Other forms of Evaluation
There are many other forms of evaluation and assessment in schools, which include:
Teacher Observation of Daily Work
In-class Peer Tutoring (if you can explain it to someone else, you obviously know it)
Daily mini Assignments
Homework (although many schools districts are not allowing homework to count in course evaluation, go figure)
Exams Have Their Place
So, as you can see, with so many evaluation techniques at our fingertips, we can adjust the emphasis on exams, but there is no need to get rid of them altogether. They still serve a large purpose, many students enjoy the direct feedback that exams provide, and if anything, it teaches students how to perform under limited pressure, which will give them better life skills.
So, let's Improve Exams and Build Upon Them
That doesn't mean we have to leave exams the way they have always been. We can improve the format, the locations where they are given, the conditions (such as flexible time constraints), and keep fine tuning them as they are part of the total evaluation framework for our students.