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Friday, August 1, 2014 | Last updated: 12:51am

Final exams, grading policy in need of reform



Finals are coming up — as if anyone failed to notice the general increase of panic on campus — and students are busy studying material they should have learned weeks ago.

In reality though, they should be studying the point of taking finals, and whether exams even accomplish anything in the first place.

The question of how to educate society has an elusive answer. Many people learn differently than their peers. Some prefer visual or auditory learning styles. Others may learn better while working in groups or working alone.

But the one constant question many students continue to ask each semester is, “Why do I have to take a final?”

A final doesn’t do anyone much benefit at all. For most students, finals week just involves either frantic or massive amounts of studying — and sometimes both.

There’s no real learning going on, as students are either reminding themselves of what they’ve already learned or cramming for the sake of passing their test before completely forgetting everything they’ve just freaked out about for the past week.

Students are paying to learn, so learn they should.

The problem goes beyond finals though, and extends to tests in general, term papers and even the grading system.

Grades are inherently subjective, notes a recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, and how the differences between universities, departments and teachers makes tests difficult to use as a universal measuring stick of how much a student has learned.

Similarly, a Chronicle blog post written by G. Kim Blank, a writing adviser and English literature professor at the University of Victoria, laments the uselessness of the term paper, citing the rapidly degenerating writing skills of college students and the dry, ineffective format they’re taught to write in.

Isn’t there a better way to not only measure how much a student has learned during a semester, but also teach them more too?
There’s a pretty simple solution.

Grades have to stay, out of necessity. There has to be a standardized way for people to say “yes, this person knows what he or she is doing” and “this person is a work in progress.” The four-point scale — in which A’s are worth four points toward your grade point average, losing a point for each letter grade — is easy to communicate and uncomplicated.

Admittedly, letter grades will always be kind of a crap-shoot, since teachers can usually grade how they like to an extent, but there’s just no better way.

As for final exams and term papers, though? Just get rid of them entirely. If a teacher is resorting to a midterm and a final (whether that’s an exam or an essay) to make sure the student knows what’s going on, then the teacher isnn’t really engaging the class and doing his or her job.

The Chronicle notes that teachers are hard pressed to measure the progress of so many students (a problem that only gets worse as class sizes increase), but it’s not fair to take out a university’s inability to hire more teachers on students, who are paying to learn and for a set of credentials that can make or break their future.

— Jason Krell is the copy chief for the Arizona Daily Wildcat. He can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu or on Twitter via @Jason_Krell .


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