Sunday, May 01, 2011


We're coming into the home stretch of the school year. At colleges and universities many students are scrambling to prepare for finals week. We're piecing together final projects, course binders and program portfolios. We're finishing our theses and writing up our conclusions from research studies. We're memorizing flash cards! This is the last opportunity to show what we know.

It's a final hoop to jump through. And for many it is daunting.

What's to be worried about? Finals are a way to basically document what you've learned. Sounds good - in theory. But there is always this gap between theory and practice for some reason.

Finals are designed to be summative - that is, the sum of all the knowledge you gained during the semester/year. My problem has always been that I can't remember everything I learned from the year. What's wrong with learning as you go? I have never been a good test taker, and for me the anxiety that goes with it is paralyzing. How can I do really well on every assignment, every project, every paper throughout the year and then fail the final exam? Yet it happens to me 9 times out of 10.

Does that final project, that course binder, or that final exam really show you what I know? I'm not convinced. How much weight should we put on these finals? Should they be one great leap we make or one of many steps we take to get where we want to go?