Finals frenzy sparks discussion among students


Test Takers: From left, senior Audrey Clark, junior Mallory Bolerjack and junior Robert Schimdt take the two-and-a-half hour AP Pyschology final in May. Photo by Alice Yu

Jenna Liu

Test Takers: From left, senior Audrey Clark, junior Mallory Bolerjack and junior Robert Schimdt take the two-and-a-half hour AP Pyschology final in May. Photo by Alice Yu
Test Takers: From left, senior Audrey Clark, junior Mallory Bolerjack and junior Robert Schmidt take the two-and-a-half hour AP Pyschology final in May. Photo by Alice Yu
While students count down the last few weeks of school in anticipation of the blissful freedom of summer vacation, the looming presence of the end-of-the-year tests that kick off in early June is already making its mark.
The ten or 15 percent weight of these exams on semester grades can be pivotal opportunities to raise a borderline percentage or to maintain a high GPA. With so much riding on achieving a good test score, some students, such as freshman Becca Wells, are wondering if a change needs to occur.
“I think [finals] should be more of project based assignments that require knowledge of material learned all year,” Wells said.
While Wells supports the concept of a final assessment, she disagrees with how most courses conduct them. She said the current configuration of finals is not the most appropriate method of evaluating what students have learned and hopes the format can shift from standard exams to more creative projects.
“Tests don’t really test your knowledge, just your ability to memorize things for a short period of time,” Wells said. “An assignment worth the percentage of our grade our final is worth can better reflect our knowledge.”
Wells’ belief in alternative finals may be spreading through the classrooms of RBHS. This year, the AP World and Honors Biology classes are collaborating on a joint final project for students in both classes. This project relies heavily on creativity and at-home research, eschewing the standard pencil and paper exams of past years.
Honors Biology teacher Kaitlin Rulon said she is in support of a final assessment, and pointed to the joint AP World-Honors Biology project as an example of how finals do not necessarily have to be paper tests.
“A lot of times in biology that is not how we feel is the best way to assess our students on their knowledge and how they’re able to apply that knowledge to the real world,” Rulon said, “which is why we have the final assessments that we do this year.”
Though Rulon said she cannot speak for other teachers, it is her personal belief that finals should be a significant part of a student’s grade.
“I think in a lot of classes, yeah, your grade is heavy on assessments because that’s kind of really the mark that you’ve been practicing this whole time, you’ve been working, and then this where we’re going to formally evaluate you,” Rulon said. “I don’t know if I would say I’m in support of it being any certain percentage specifically, but in general, yeah, you’ve been studying and working all year, and I’m going to assess you on that product of your work from the semester.”
Senior Maaz Muhammad does not have a preference for any specific type of final, but is nonetheless a strong proponent of a final assessment in general, no matter the format.
“Finals, whether it be a test, essay, a project, should test that you learned the material and that you can apply it in a real world setting, which is why it should be worth the majority of your grade,” Muhammad said. “That way, your grade reflects what you learned, not how hard you tried or whether you participated in class or not, and if you turned s— in or not.”
As a senior, Muhammad said he does not expect to put too much study time into finals for non-AP classes, of which he has only two.
“In AP classes, finals are usually AP exams,” Muhammad said, “which is really good to help study for the AP exam.”
Burke McCray, the AP Calculus teacher at RBHS, is planning on doing just that. The final in his calculus class will be a practice AP test given on a Saturday morning at the same time of day as the actual exam, in order to replicate the AP exam as closely as possible and make his students more comfortable with the experience. McCray said he supports the concept of a final and prefers assessments that cover a large range of material.
“I like having a comprehensive final to assess what the students have learned for the year,” McCray said. “I don’t want them to just learn it for the chapter exam then forget it.”
As McCray does like to give his students chances to give their grades a boost before the semester ends, he has a policy of replacing any student’s lowest chapter exam grade with their grade on the final, if the student’s final is higher.
“I don’t like to drop a whole exam grade, but if they have one that didn’t go so well, they can still salvage that grade by doing well on the final,” McCray said. “This has helped several students in the past.”
Betsy Jones, director of guidance, said there is relative freedom regarding the structure and format of finals–but within reason.
“There really isn’t a comprehensive guideline [about finals], it’s really based on the content area,” Jones said. “But the assumption is that most content areas lend themselves to summative assessments, and that summative assessment is a portion of the final grade.”
Jones said while there are no creative restrictions on teachers designing finals for their classes, they do need to abide by the set curriculum and final assessment standards.
“It’s really up to the professional learning team to make those decisions, so those decisions are made by curriculum coordinators who work with the department chairs who work with the teachers,” Jones said. “So it’s not up to the individual teacher, but collectively all the students who take any course district-wide would have the same experience.”
While the material subject finals consist of may be uniform across the district, students such as senior Scott McAfee disagree with the assertion that corresponding courses mean identical experiences with final assessments. McAfee said varying teaching styles often result in highly disparate finals, even with those of the same subject.
“Every class is going to be taught in a different way,”McAfee said. “So no matter what the assessments are, they’re always going to be different, no matter how they’re tested.”
McAfee said he understands the purpose and need for finals but hopes such assessments can be reexamined in the interest of lessening the amount of stress student’s are under at the end of the year.
“I agree with the concept of finals; I just don’t agree with how they’re carried out some of the time.” McAfee said. “I think sometimes some teachers take it a little too far.”
Jones said she does not maintain a personal position on how finals should be carried out, given the uniqueness of every course and its curriculum.
“I really don’t [have an opinion on finals], as each content area lends itself to something different,” Jones said. “But I think we to remember that we are preparing students for postsecondary, and in postsecondary, there are semester assessments. They vary, but they are out there, and I think we need to be keeping that in mind.”
By Jenna Liu
What types of finals do you prefer?