Finals: A critique
It’s that time of the year when you start to question whether your only purpose in life is to peel yourself off of your chair in the library, slink downstairs, get coffee and repeat. However, this is not another article complaining about the drudgery of finals (even though I love complaining about the drudgery of finals). It is an exploration of something far grander. Something elusive, strange, yet totally unsexy. “What is this thing?” you ask in nervous anticipation. “Get to the point…” others may think to themselves. This is an introspective analysis of the test and how it functions in our daily lives. The answer, you’ll find, is largely to crush our souls.
A test the way you normally think about it inspires fear, dread, and maybe nausea. But it’s not the test itself that makes you crazy. It’s all that goes into the test and all the things that come out of it. Let’s take two examples: the SAT/ACT, and a normal midterm exam. For the standardized test, you spent countless hours studying, taking practice exams, stressing, going over testing strategies, etc. etc. etc. Why? Well, because the SAT/ACT would determine where you got into college, which would determine what kind of job you get, who you are as a person, what your wife/husband will look like, how much money you make, and which kind of dog you get after you retire. No big deal. The midterm follows a similar path. You cram in the library, desperately memorizing material you only hope to retain after the test. It causes stress, lack of sleep and irritation. The grade on the midterm will determine how well you have to do on the final, which will determine future levels of stress, and thus your general happiness over the course of your semester, because your final grade, which depends on your midterm and final, determines your semester GPA, which determines your final GPA, which determines what job you get, and on and on again, ending with your self worth and what kind of dog you have post retirement. Perhaps this analysis is a tad neurotic, but it’s not pretty, any way you look at it.
Look at these tests without the consequences, though. No grades, no impact on your future, no nothing. The SAT could be…fun? An in-class essay could be…an intellectual exercise? How many times do you go on Sporcle or take a silly quiz you get in an e-mail to test your own knowledge? We like to use our brains! And if yours is anything like mine, it tends to flourish when it has time and space, and give you a big finger when it has to cope with finals week.
We come to college to study topics that we are interested in, to learn and to better ourselves. But that is often obscured by the presence of grades. I’m not saying get rid of tests and papers. But let us take tests home, work with sources and master the material. Then return them with comments and corrections but no scary number or letter at the bottom. Let us write papers over longer periods of time, so that we can read and understand the material thoroughly and write comprehensively. Then, just like the tests, hand them back with comments and corrections, but no grade.
With all of our courses and extracurricular activities, we lose sight of learning and strategize based on how to get the best grades. Overloading us with assignments during weeks like this only makes it worse. Without the pressure of doing badly or of impending deadlines, maybe then students could really understand the material instead of regurgitating facts through rote memorization.
We like learning, and we like to be tested on it. But no one likes the pressure of a lifetime of consequences that come from a grade on one major assignment.