Wednesday, December 2, 2015

The Importance of Mandatory and Cumulative Final Exams

Taken from: Paul Heller.

Mandatory and cumulative finals are used in each and every course I instruct; this is an absolute teaching principle of mine. Unfortunately, the current trends in colleges are moving away from final exams as illustrated by an article entitled, “Harvard Says Goodbye to Final Exams.” At Harvard in the spring 2010 semester, out of nearly 1,140 undergraduate courses, professors elected to have a final exam in only 23% of these courses. Starting this current fall 2010 semester, Harvard professors will have to file a request to give a final exam by the end of the first week. If an instructor does not to do so, the assumption shall be that the instructor will not be giving a final examination.

I am perplexed by Harvard’s position and how often final examinations are neither mandatory and/or cumulative at today’s universities. Educational theory supports the huge benefit of students reviewing course materials frequently and cumulatively. Final exams create an important cumulative review of both course content and practice applying concepts that result in:
  • Revisiting concepts, approaches and terminology later in a semester. This often results in a better overall understanding. Students benefit from a perspective containing a “bigger picture” having been exposed to the entire course when going back and reviewing portions covered earlier in the semester.
  • Heightening retention so that knowledge gained in a course can be applied later in the workplace. Separate from the beneficial studying process for a cumulative final exam, a student knowing that this cumulative final will take place at the end of the term heightens aggregate retention during the semester. Students have the additional motivation to retain knowledge throughout the semester that they may not otherwise. See research from Memory and Cognition, 2007 “Expectation of a Final Cumulative Test Enhances Long-term Retention.” Read more...