With finals around the corner, many students feel the stress that comes with the overwhelming study sessions ahead of them. The biggest reason for this anxiety is that professors administer cumulative finals. But beyond the last-minute cramming, an important question we need to ask ourselves is what type of assessment helps students most in the long run: all-in-one-week cumulative finals or a unit-based exam?
The dilemma that comes with finding the answer lies in the opinions of those it affects most: students and professors. Most students prefer that finals not be cumulative, while most professors prefer that finals should be.
The solution? USF should implement a policy in which finals are cumulative for major/minor courses, but unit-based for core classes. A unit-based final would mean that instead of having students evaluated on all the lessons or chapters since the start of a class, they would only be taking a final of the most recent lesson or chapter. In essence, the final would be like a midterm. A final exam policy that consists of class-specific finals would allow students to manage their time much more efficiently, as well as help them retain the skills and knowledge that serve at their most vital interest.
This policy would help reaffirm the purpose of different classes. Core classes are designed to make students academically well-rounded by the time they graduate. On the other hand, major/minor courses target strengthening the skills and concepts needed for a student’s particular field of interest, and consequently, their future career. If the purpose of core classes and major/minor classes are different, then the way we fulfill those classes should be different as well.
To effectively implement this policy, we need to clearly identify the classes that should have cumulative finals and the classes that should have unit based finals. Classes where there are already no final exams, such as Public Speaking or Rhetorical Communication, should remain that way. However, core classes for non-majors such as math and science, should switch to unit-based finals. If there’s a case where a class fulfills both core and major credits, such as Business Statistics, then that class should have two separate finals, one for students in that major and one for non-majors.
The policy would also address circumstances where a student is changing majors or is undeclared. For students changing majors, the finals of the classes that are required for that major would be cumulative. All the other classes they’ve taken in the major before they switched should count as credits for graduation either as elective credits or core credits. For students who are undeclared, their finals should also be unit-based, as the need for retention is absent. Only when they declare a major/minor should those specific classes have cumulative finals.
Cumulative finals for core classes creates unnecessary stress for students. It’s not to say that core classes aren’t important, but rather, the time and effort of the students could be better used for the classes in their intended major/minor.
The logic behind administering cumulative finals is very much in line with the goals of major/minor courses. In the article “Examining the Benefits of Cumulative Tests and Finals,” Maryellen Weimer finds that cumulative exams are the best option if the goal is long-term retention. Since major/minor courses are essential to developing the necessary skills and concepts of a student’s possible career, long-term retention serves as an obvious advantage to the student if they hope to prosper in their respective field.
Although students may not like facing the reality of having to study for cumulative finals, the benefits of having them for specific courses may make them think otherwise. As Weimer points out: “more students need to understand that certain kinds of exam experiences promote learning that lasts longer, which helps them in subsequent courses and after they graduate.” If USF were to limit cumulative finals to just major/minor courses, it would allow students to manage their finals better and retain the information in their most prioritized classes. Having students be able to narrow down their focus on final exams would help gear them toward success not only in their major/minor courses, but in their future career as well.
Having core classes on a unit-based final would help students narrow down what they have to study for. This would also help counter the problem of redundancy. If the material was already assessed in a previous midterm, than that test should serve as the final assessment for that unit, and should not have to be reassessed in a final exam. Why have tests reevaluated and make students study the same material, especially if the class serves only as core credits needed for graduation?
Currently, USF policy does not explicitly state guidelines for finals. As of now, it seems that how finals will be administered — cumulative or unit based — is dependent on the professor. However, this is simply not enough. The unnecessary stress and the counterproductive redundancy of cumulative finals in core classes hinder, rather than help, a student’s academic career. At the same time, limiting cumulative finals to only major/minor courses would help students retain the necessary skills and knowledge needed for their possible career. A final exam policy would help advance the future of USF students in school and beyond.