We Need a Final Exam Revolution

It’s time for universities to offer alternatives to the stress and anxiety of final exams

Epifania Alarcon

Exam season is the worst. The last two weeks of the semester always involve study sessions, cramming, stress, caffeine, and thoughts like, “What mark do I need on this exam to pass the course?”

Studies show that final exam periods cause an increased demand for prescription medication, counselling services, tutoring services, and all too frequently result in course failures. When your final grade depends on the mark you get on your last test, it can feel like the end of the world if you’re not prepared.

So how is it beneficial for students to memorize the answers to a test in a short amount of time only to forget all about it after the exam is over? How does that prepare you for your future career path?

Test anxiety could be due, in part, to the time frame in which final exams take place. If you’re in five or six courses, there’s a high chance that your exams will fall on the same day or just days apart. This is one of the major reasons for stress and cramming during exam season—there simply isn’t enough time to properly study for everything.

There is a mental health crisis affecting students across Canada. In 2016, The Ontario University and College Health Association published a survey of 25,000 students which found that 65 per cent of post-secondary students had experienced overwhelming anxiety in the previous year. The health and well-being of students should be the most important factor when deciding how to structure courses, so universities and colleges need to consider how much unnecessary mental strain they are putting on students by having such a strict and condensed exam schedule.

Some countries have taken note of these issues and created alternate solutions for final exams. For example, certain universities in the United Kingdom and France only hold exams at the end of a degree program, not at the end of each course. Others evaluate student knowledge based on individual projects that showcase what they’ve learned and measure whether the students can apply their knowledge to real-world challenges.

Changing the structure of courses and eliminating final exams is beneficial for institutions as well as students. Exam stress from students puts more pressure on staff and faculty to be accessible, meaning more counselling services and instructor office hours are needed. When students fail courses, they need to take that course again, creating waitlists and the need for extra sections of the course to be planned. Post-secondary institutions should want their students to excel, and rethinking the structure of final exams is an important factor in helping them do so.

Everyone learns differently. You can’t judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree. I believe that students should be fairly tested on their knowledge of course work through projects, essays, and a final exam only if they prefer to learn that way. Exam period should be extended to longer than two weeks and alternate dates should be automatically given if exams are scheduled too close together. For the benefit of everyone, it’s time for universities to have a final exam revolution.

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