Final Exams

We just finished our final exams this week and are ready for the summer. But, of course, a bit of finals week reflection is in order each year, and this year is no exception.

I use these tests as a way to ensure that students can’t forget the material in the class, to have the kids ponder the courses’ big ideas, and to give the students a final opportunity to show me they learned the material. For me, this reinforces the importance of the class and its application to my students. Plus, I always have a reflective question for the students which allows them to assess their own efforts and to set goals for the summer and the next school year.

My students did a great job on their finals this year; they had some of the highest final exam grades I’ve seen in some time, and almost everyone increased their grades based on the final. This felt good to see.

However, these successes were not without a few minor obstacles. During the last final exam time the students worked well despite a Jack Black film playing to their right and a Romeo and Juliet film to their left. Sometimes I momentarily wonder why I work so hard when those around me do not, but I know the students deserve to be held to high standards.

Over the last few years the administrators have started to voice whether or not we should have finals. They have seen some teachers playing kickball outside or showing movies or having yearbook signing parties during the final exam time. Instead of enforcing that a learning activity occur, the conversation has shifted to one of eliminating finals.

For those of us who actually push our kids to the end, this feels insulting. Why would the response to teachers not using all of their class time for learning result in a seeming endorsement of that notion?

Now, I have changed my finals structure because of parental and administrative pressures. I have moved more towards an objective final exam, so parents and administrators can’t pressure me to fudge a more subjective score. I used to have all essay finals, but I now have the final structured as 40% vocabulary words/literary terms, 40% literature review, and 20% essay.

Still, I don’t think that the few who refuse to give finals or do not have a structured activity should essentially set the policy for everyone else. I think this conversation really leads me to two questions:

  • Why don’t the administrators enforce the policies set for the faculty?
  • What is the purpose of finals?
How do you feel about final exams?

7 thoughts on “Final Exams

  1. marenjohnson

    I teach 10th grade biology and AP biology. 10th grade bio has the HSPE, or next year the biology EOC. AP biology has the AP bio test. Honestly, that’s about enough high stakes summative assessment for me. I do give a final type of exam in AP bio before the actual AP bio test, but in 10th grade bio I really limit it to unit type tests so as to limit the class time spent on testing. After the state tests or AP tests I try to focus on engaging (and educational) science activities, but I do very little testing.

    1. drpezz Post author

      I like the way you’ve done it here. AP classes and those with end of course exams are different beasts.

      My thoughts on finals have always been a comprehensive exam or some other learning activity is necessary; otherwise, why have the time?

  2. Jim Van Pelt

    The final exam is my last, best chance to reinforce the class’s main concepts. Because it is high stakes sounding (20% of the grade comes from the final*), it’s a powerful teaching tool. I’m a strong advocate for a final.

    Some of our teachers excuse kids from the final if they have a 90% or more in the class. I don’t do that either.

    *Most kids raise their grade with the final. The final is “high stakes sounding,” and the kids get nervous about it, so they prepare hard, but the math of a 20% final is that to change their current grade in the class by 1%, they have to have a 5% difference in their grade on the final. A kid with an 85% in the class, mathematically cannot raise the grade to 90% no matter how strong the final is, and the same kid would have to score 30% below his current average to drop to a 79%.

    I don’t mind that most kids don’t do the math. They hear 20%, freak out and study hard. Since I give them the final, essentially, as a study guide, and the final covers the class’s main concepts, they are well prepared and spent their last days in the class working on the key learning points.

    Who would want to give that up to show their kids a movie instead or to take them outside to play kickball?

    1. drpezz Post author

      I apply 15% to my final, so you and I seem like kindred spirits here. I definitely believe in a culminating activity or test depending on the class (at least some type of learning activity).

      Another group of teachers I hadn’t mentioned, I believe, are trying to escape the school for the summer five minutes after the students.

  3. Jim Van Pelt

    Oops. Missed Marenjohnson’s comment. My A.P. Lit class is all seniors. Because of when the test is given and when our seniors are done, I only have them for three or four days after the College Board test. The juniors and sophomores are in school for two more weeks. I don’t do a final for the A.P.ers. We pick a piece of literature for a final extended lit circle. All discussion. No grading.

    1. Cassandra Snider

      I hear some of the same movies playing in the classrooms in my building also. I agree with you: I think we do our students a great disservice in not using the final exam for the purposes described. I, too, feel pressure from students and even other teachers to use this time wastefully. What a shame.

      I have a question for you: how do we encourage a culture of desire for academic achievement in our school? I am teaching at my alma mater, and it is MUCH different than when I was a student. We were academically competitive. We studied. We worked our butts off. Lately I feel as if our school is one of academic entitlement! “I deserve an A” or “How dare you not think my output is amazing regardless of the fact that I cranked it out the night before?!” This issue has really been bothering me the last couple of years. Suggestions?!

  4. Cassandra Snider

    To add to my previous posting, we teachers are even discouraged to assign an inconsistent or failing grade to students. Furthermore, if semester exam grades are lower than regular quarterly grades, we are to “adjust” them. True story. I am dismayed.


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