Faculty: Are Finals Necessary?

Sara Cao, A&E Editor

From the perspective of teachers at JBS.

When hearing the word “finals,” most students will probably react as if they’ve just encountered the doomed f-word. Finals: the most stress-inducing part of the year with absolutely no happiness, sleep, or relaxation. To many of us, it can feel as if finals serve no purpose other than to make students feel miserable, but it is important to catch a glimpse of the bright side as changing our mindset about finals could be advantageous in the long run.

The goal of finals, from the standpoint of teachers, is ultimately to drive students to do their very best and reflect on what they have learned throughout the semester or the whole year. According to Ms. Kinney, “Research demonstrates that one of the most effective ways to commit information and skills to long-term memory is to review and test ourselves, so there really is a good reason to study for and take final exams. Finals also offer us the rare opportunity to reflect back on what we’ve done and how far we’ve come since the beginning of the year.” Not only do finals invite us to enter a crucial period of reflection we do not often experience, but also, the preparation that goes into these exams is key to understanding material. Mrs. Crowley elaborates that “When you work to tie a semester’s worth of concepts together, you often see connections in new ways and have a chance for something to “click” that didn’t the first time you were exposed to the ideas.”

However, not all teachers agree that finals are absolutely crucial and have mixed feelings about the strength of the word “necessary.” For example, Mr. Chen states that for a final paper, “I personally wouldn’t use the word “necessary”–to me, it feels too strong. However, I will say that I think a final writing project is a great way to sharpen and demonstrate the writing skills that students have worked on throughout the semester.” Likewise, Mr. Wagner offers his perspective on this topic, expressing his ambivalence about a final test, as he thinks that a paper would much better reflect the critical thinking skills his history students are encouraged to bring to the table. At the same time, he emphasizes the general consensus that retention and reviewing material is beneficial on the path of learning in the long run.

The teachers at JBS know that finals can be an extremely stressful process and have taken their time to try to make sure students feel comfortable and supported while going into finals week. According to Mrs. Yetter, the school actually changed their past finals week schedule to allow only one final per day and to start exams at 10:30 instead of at 9 AM. She notes that most teachers have developed a sort of review period going into exam week, and says, “The faculty have been encouraged to review more, talk about how to study for the course, and to not create an environment where students would be tempted to violate their integrity through cheating.” Additionally, Mrs. Crowley states that the school has asked teachers to reduce the percentage of the final grade and decide the format of their individual finals themselves in order to achieve the dual goals – “to reduce stress in the short term, but also to ensure learning of the key concepts so as to not, unintentionally, create stress in the long term.”

Even though finals are generally seen as a nuisance, they create a new learning experience for students as they review material and consolidate their understanding. Ms. Kinney notes the importance of changing the antagonistic perspective towards finals, saying that “It’s an opportunity to look back on how far you’ve come, what you’ve learned, and pat yourself on the back, or feel a little gratitude for everything you’ve been given or accomplished. Again, moving yourself away from “this is torture” to “this is a cool moment” seems far-fetched but it can make a huge difference.”

***The teachers interviewed have offered tips on how to tackle finals week and want to point out that teachers are always here to help students in any way they can, whether it be during finals week or at any point in a student’s career.

Mr. Wagner: Have an organized approach to your studying. Start with a general overview of the entire semester and progressively dig deeper into more specific information from individual units. Identify the information that requires the onerous but necessary work of memorization but don’t ignore the synthesis of all that information. How does it all fit together? Know what you understand, and know what you don’t know. Then go review it until you learn it.

Ms. Kinney: Finals are a memorable rite of passage. I have some really fond memories of studying all night with really smart people in high school and college, desperately trying to combine history notes, arguing about political theory, quizzing each other, supporting each other in the shared goal. You might hate it now, but finals are something you’ll likely remember for a long time. It’s going to be ok. No single test, and no single year of tests is going to determine the outcome of your life. Do your best because it feels good to do something difficult and do it well. The rest will work out.

Mrs. Crowley: 1) The best way to study for finals is to study thoughtfully all semester long. Make unit study guides, or even “weekly” study guides, and then you’ve already got all the key ideas distilled for review for the week prior to the final. 2) Use timers! My husband uses the idea of “doing sprints” with his business team – the idea is that you set a timer and work super hard and super focused for a fixed period of time. Then you take a break (movement, step outside, get a drink, dance, etc.) and then get back to it or change to a different subject. 3) Think of your study time as a scavenger hunt for the most interesting, least expected, coolest thing you can learn during that hour, or 30 minutes, or whatever. Then, report back to your parents, teacher, or dog what the cool thing is you learned. Use your natural curiosity to drive you. And a bonus: remember, always, that you are not your grade. You are a worthy, fascinating, creative, and lovely human regardless of your test scores!

Mrs. Yetter: 1) Start to prepare early – this will help the information go into long term memory, which will help you retrieve info on test day and will allow you to feel better prepared. 2) Get plenty of sleep – no last-minute-cramming! It’s not a good, sustainable study technique – break the habit now and build solid skills that you can use for the rest of your life because you will always be learning new information. 3) Eat breakfast before your assessment – it gives your brain a boost. 4) Stick to your regular routines so exam day is predictable – wake up at your regular time, get ready for the day, drink coffee if that’s what you always do before school (exam week is not the time to experiment) – this will help you feel comfortable and relaxed. 5) Set out all of your necessary materials the night before. 6) Take a deep breath and give yourself a pep talk – no one should have negative thoughts running through their mind before taking a test.

Mr. Chen: Ask your teachers for help. I’m always happy to meet with students and help however I can, and even though I can only speak for myself, I bet many teachers would say the same thing.