Finals Are Effective and Warrant Use

Will Schwinghammer, head staff writer

Although many students dread the end of the semester and the battery of tests that it entails, finals don’t deserve their bad reputation, and are a crucial part of the educational process.

Edina High School’s first semester begins in early September and ends in late January; throughout this time, students are constantly presented with new material to learn. With such a long time between the beginning of the semester and finals week, it’s easy for students to forget the earliest topics covered in their classes. Busy students lack an incentive to review old material unless absolutely necessary. According to Ebbinghaus’s forgetting curve, students can forget up to 90% of information they learn if they don’t actively review it. If students aren’t going to remember what they’ve been taught in the long term, there is no use teaching the material in the first place, and school would be a waste of time for everyone involved. Luckily, finals necessitate this review, and ensure that students continue to understand course content. Finals prevent students from forgetting important information and make the semester preceding them worth the time and effort.

Beyond the necessity of finals, the tests themselves are very effective devices. In a perfect world, every student would remember 100% of the content that was delivered to them, and every teacher would perfectly convey every fact and tidbit the curriculum could possibly include. However, educators have enough experience to understand that this kind of idealism isn’t realistic. Students miss class and material. Teachers don’t always reach every student. The curriculum has holes. Students need to understand the big-picture concepts of the course and the general ideas covered, and any further knowledge is extra. Luckily, finals are written so that students still have another opportunity to learn or relearn  main ideas. Students tend to exaggerate the difficulty and obscurity of material being tested on finals, but this isn’t the case. For example, look at any practice AP History exam available online. The questions generally ask about topics and trends over time, not about exact details such as certain dates of historical events. These test are essentially checklists: “Do you or do you not understand the most important information taught in this course?” They are not arbitrarily difficult weapons used to punish students for not mastering every trivial fact.

Additionally, finals provide an incentive for students to continue working and learning through the semester. At best, finals provide a reason for students to revisit material after it’s been tested. At worst, they force students to cram the material until they understand it at least well enough to pass a final, which is still a net positive because reviewing a little bit is better than not reviewing at all. They’re often weighed heavier than a normal test, and while it’s unlikely that a final will completely hide the effects of a semester spent slacking, they can certainly help a student somewhat salvage a subpar grade.

Finals give students an opportunity to learn how to manage a large task without procrastinating until the last minute. Life is full of large projects that demand long-term planning to accomplish. By organizing and planning ahead of time, students can avoid mountains of stress. Finals provide invaluable practice for students’ planning and organization skills.

Although it’s popular to hate on finals and hype up their horribleness, they don’t deserve the bad rap. In the grand scheme of things, finals are just one week of tests. Finals help refresh and review information that might otherwise be forgotten, and make sure that all the hard work put in during the rest of the semester will be worth it in the long run.