December begins the holiday season: a time of festivity and joy, gifts and celebration. We indulge ourselves in delicious food and pile our houses with decorations, all in hazy excitement for the upcoming holidays. Especially for students, December brings the conclusion of first semester, an indication of a three-week-break that follows. With heightened excitement, students go about their days, their thoughts filled with vacation and presents and sleep. But these fantasies disappear the minute they walk in the classroom and the teacher hands out an oddly familiar looking packet with a complete list of topics to study. And only when staring dully at the packet does the faint memory of the enemy emerge: finals.
Finals week is any students’ most dreaded time of the year. Sleep and relaxation seem to suddenly become nonexistent, and extra credit is God’s gift to the world. The notes from two weeks seem to have disappeared into thin air. A time of cramming and stress, finals is the high price students pay for their breaks. But is it actually effective?
Most finals are meant to cover material from the entire first semester. This includes all the units from the beginning of the year, which most students don’t even recall studying. What does that mean? Cramming. Although we all know the consequences of cramming, we still default to it because there’s no other way to obtain the information we have already lost memory of. And even if exams aren’t cumulative, the amount of preparation for each final calls for a ridiculously large amount of knowledge, which needs to be done within the time allotted. Not only is cramming time-consuming and stressful, studies show that students retain little to none of the information they have crammed for. So, in applying to the majority of students who still cram, we can already see that finals have no effect on improving a student’s education.
But say that a student decides to be responsible and divide their time wisely. He studies, sleeps, and goes to class. Finally, on the day of finals, he takes the test and scores well. Then what? Where is the information put to use after that? Unless it’s something the student is actually interested in, the answer is essentially nowhere. But for the sake of arguing, let’s just say that all the information is actually put to use in the future. Every single thing the student has learned plays a part in their later studies and occupations, and every detail is completely necessary. On that train of thought, though, wouldn’t it be true that when we have jobs, all these things are within our access? In the real world, we are never required to memorize such things, especially in this generation when everything is just a few mouse clicks away.
Furthermore, the purpose of finals is to assess whether the student has learned anything over the course of one semester. However, it needs to be taken into account that some students are just not great test takers. For such students, their efforts in the class and participation are what earn them their grade in the class, not their performance on a test. Yet, we fail to acknowledge their consistent efforts and instead summarize their semester-long academic journey into a single percentage grade of a test that is already way too long for any reasonable student to maintain their focus throughout.
The whole point of finals, as aforementioned, is for the teacher to see what the student has learned, but also for the student to learn from his/her mistakes. With any test, it is an opportunity for the student to review it and see what was missed in order to have a better understanding of the subject. However, with finals being on the last day of the semester, students are almost never given the chance to review his/her work. This defeats the entire purpose of school being a process of learning and growing from one’s mistakes.
Finally, students are required to take assessments or perform assignments that evaluate their understanding of the class material all throughout the semester. From quizzes to essays to discussions to exams, students are consistently getting tested on what they have learned. As a result, the teacher already as a general understanding of the student’s abilities. Taking a cumulative exam at the end of the year isn’t saying anything new about the student’s understanding or educational growth, rather just how well they could memorize the material for the sake of the exam. Especially for high schoolers, who are required to take a number of standardized tests and AP exams, finals are just another redundancy.
Finals have been a part of the education system for a while, but that doesn’t mean they will remain a part of it for the long future. However, as stressed and sleep-deprived high school students, there may not be much that can be done within our power. So until the day we can, may we all be blessed with good grades and rewarding results.
Joyce Kim, Grade 9
La Canada High School