Finals Are Overly Stressful and Only Promote Cramming

Theo Teske, staff writer

For many students, finals week is a maelstrom of stress, anxiety, caffeine, and late nights. This makes it understandably easy to get swept up unquestioningly in the grind. However, it’s critical to take a step back and ask if cumulative exams are really worth the toll they take on students. With this in mind, I contend that even beyond how much they hurt students physically and emotionally, finals not only fail to accurately measure knowledge, but are actually detrimental to students’ learning throughout the course.

The first major issue with finals is that they all happen in a short period of time. This forces students to study late into the night to prepare for seven final exams at once, all of which test all the material they’ve been exposed to throughout the year. This has a concrete negative impact on students’ health, as loss of sleep makes students physically and mentally exhausted.

Furthermore, anxiety and depression are certainly a major part of the lead-up to finals for many students. While testing is important in education, it should never be prioritized over the mental wellbeing of the student body. Plus, exhausted, anxious, and stressed students are much less likely to do well on a test than students who are in good health. In this way, the format of finals, by being all in one week, makes it much more difficult for students to succeed.

Excessive studying is motivated not only by the schedule, but also by the fact that finals test students on information that they haven’t been thinking about for months. When some throwaway factoid that was taught to students in the first week of September is brought up again in mid-January, it shouldn’t be a surprise that most students don’t remember it. It’s all well and good to say that students should review material that they learned earlier in the year. However, in reality it’s unrealistic that students will be able to remember every single thing that has been taught to them throughout the semester. The most important information will generally still be relevant to students in the middle of the year, so it will still be retained.

This exposes a deeper issue with finals: the fact that performance throughout the year is devalued. Students were already tested on the material from September back in September; there’s no need to test them again. In fact, having a final disincentivizes working hard throughout the year, as students who perform at a mediocre level throughout the year can do well in the class if they ace the final. This is clearly detrimental to students’ learning, as instead of absorbing material as it’s taught to them, students instead cram information just before the final, which is much less likely to result in true understanding.

A myopic focus on finals applies to teachers just as much as students. When teachers have to prepare students for a major cumulative exam at the end of the semester, it leads to them teaching to the test instead of teaching for comprehension. For example, instead of taking time in class to illustrate a concept in depth, teachers are more likely to introduce a concept and then ensure students have memorized it. This means students don’t understand the concept as well, but they will be able to recall it by rote from memory when taking an exam. Teachers ultimately want their students to do well on finals, but in too many cases, ensuring students do well trades off with true comprehension of the material.

A much better way to test students’ knowledge would be to assign a creative project in which students are required to apply what they’ve learned. Instead of students simply parroting information teachers have said, application of knowledge allows students to truly demonstrate understanding. Plus, this leads to natural review of material from earlier in the year, but at the student’s own pace. This means that information that is genuinely important for students to retain is being reviewed, but less important information doesn’t have to be needlessly relearned just for a final.

Schools should accept that students simply don’t remember everything taught to them; by prioritizing deep understanding of the most important concepts, schools can ensure that students get the best education possible. Unfortunately, finals are counterproductive to this goal, and harm students’ health and mental wellbeing. Finals undeniably fail to effectively measure knowledge, and with all the drawbacks that come along with them, they decidedly should not be used.

By moving away from finals and towards projects that allow students to apply their knowledge, students can learn more deeply and be in a better state of health, both mentally and physically, while they do so.