You’re given a task.
Over a 7-day period you are to review all the information you’ve presented in the last five courses you’ve taught, and then write a report from memory on each specific course.
Could you do it? Could you do it well? Probably, but it would take lots and lots of work.
Yet, during final exams that’s exactly what we ask students to do. They must take each of their courses, review the notes and the content, then regurgitate that knowledge on some sort of exam. All in the span of about a week.
It’s bad (for us and them) if we ask each student to answer essay questions. It’s worse if the exams are objective. And it’s the worst if the exams cover material from the entire semester. Yet that is how we do it, primarily because that is how it has been done for more than a century.
Here’s a little discussion on end-of-the-semester evaluations.
- Never make a final exam a comprehensive exam. If you have to give exams in a course, then make the final exam simply the last exam covering the final third or fourth of the course.
- Do portfolios instead of exams. This actually rewards a student for doing good work all semester and then simply putting it all together in a compilation. And it also means the student who did not work hard all semester cannot simply redeem themselves on a single exam.
- Do not do group presentations during the final exam period. This is probably as bad as actually giving a final exam. It disrupts students individual study schedules. It forces the production of a presentation that is usually inferior (and far less listened to by others) than if it would have been done two weeks earlier. And if there are more than three or four, there is usually a time crunch for the last presentation.
- Have a lengthy paper due at the end of the semester. Students turn it in either the last class day or on the day the final exam would have been taken. I’ve done this and it only works if the papers are done in segments throughout the semester and the final paper is a compilation with only the last segment written for the final.
- Do not give an exam at all. Make the final exam period something truly interesting and memorable and creative and fun. Just make certain whatever you do is related to the subject matter of the course.
If you are a reader of this blog you know I am not a fan of exams. There are many different ways of determining the quality of each student’s work during the semester without giving one useless comprehensive exam at the last possible moment. I have discussed some of those other ways here.
What I have sometimes done, and it was always successful, was to find a common 60 or 90 minutes and have all my classes meet together in an auditorium. Then I showed an interesting and relevant TED talk, discussed it a bit, discussed themes common to all the courses, and discussed with them suggestions for how future classes (mine and others) could be improved. Then I compiled some of the best suggestions and sent them to other faculty in my department. I made the whole experience enlightening, educational and enjoyable for both them and me.
Please, don’t give final exams. Find alternatives.