Final Exams Don’t Help Students


Kira Camacho, Staff Writer

Arguably one of the most stressful things about being a student is tests and exams. From quizzes to AP exams in May, tests put unnecessary stress on students. On top of hours of homework, there are always hours of studying to pile on after. But the most stressful of all exams are finals. At the end of each semester, we’re expected to recall everything we’ve learned in each academic class and be able to take a test on it. In my opinion, final exams don’t actually help students.

Final exams are meant to test students on what they’ve learned over the year, but they can’t possibly measure students’ learning due to numerous factors. One such factor is test anxiety, a form of anxiety that many people are subject to. Before, during, or while testing, these people feel extreme pressure to do well. 

In a study conducted by Hasan Yusefzadeh, Jamileh Amirzadeh Iranagh, and Bahram Nabilou, they measured test scores and stress levels during a test. They found that students with high levels of stress had lower scores than their peers. That’s because stress and anxiety exhausts your brain, draining your ability to focus, concentrate, and recall information. These three things are crucial during tests. When feeling test anxiety, your score won’t be an accurate representation of your learning. Test anxiety only increases during finals, as these multifaceted tests usually count for a big chunk of your final grade. No matter how you performed that year, the final often plays a large role in determining your grade. 

The entire education system revolves around tests. You learn something, practice it, memorize it, and then test on it. In almost all of the academic classes I’ve taken, this was the pattern, and it has been the pattern for a very long time. But studies in neuroeducation and cognitive psychology are now proving that memorization isn’t the actual key to learning. 

“Learning means that information is related and connected to the learner. If it’s not, you have memorization, but you don’t have learning,” wrote Sara Briggs. “Standardized tests rely on memorization, but they do not necessarily reflect (or measure) learning.”

Standardized tests are tests like the Scholastic Assessment Test (SAT), or the American College Test (ACT). These tests have all students answer the same questions, in the same way, to measure the performance of an individual. Though standardized tests aren’t exactly finals, they’re measuring knowledge administered in the same way that many finals exams are. In a rush to memorize and cram information, many students won’t actually think about the information they need for finals. Instead of learning the information long-term, students will quickly forget it.

“Your memory is a product of what you think most carefully about,” said David Willingham, a cognitive scientist. “What students think about most carefully is what they will remember.”

So, finals don’t really measure learning. But what’s the solution? Projects. Many teachers already offer project finals instead of traditional test-finals. Projects let you actually use the information you’ve learned to complete a task. For example, an Algebra project-based final that asks you to recreate a picture using graph equations will allow you to use the math concepts in a more fun, less stressful way. You’ll also learn more from the project than memorizing formulas for a test. This careful thinking during a project will increase your chance of memorizing the information for longer. Plus, much (if not all) of the stress of a test is relieved, and students can focus more on learning than grades.

Unfortunately, finals probably won’t be going away very soon, if ever. As I mentioned, education still relies on a pattern of memorization and testing. Though many classes and programs break the mold to include more hands-on learning, final exams continue to be the default. Even though we still have to go through finals, hopefully some of your projects from the school year will help your studying process. Good luck!


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