It’s that time of year when it feels like everything is on fire. And you’re just sitting in the flames, waiting to burn to death — except release never comes, and your essay is still due at midnight.
Okay, that may be a little dramatic, but I’m writing to you today from my bed, in the dark, fingers aching and eyes burning from finishing a ten-page essay and studying for a final tomorrow, and I’ve decided it’s time to address it: Cumulative finals are, in a word, terrible.
Cumulative finals, for those who are lucky enough to have never heard the term, are finals that are based on curriculum from the entire semester or year. While it makes sense as an end-of-the-semester assessment, it feels redundant to have cumulative finals when a midterm has already been administered that tested the content learned from the beginning of the semester with the same rigor as the final.
From an unresearched standpoint, it’s clear: If I aced a test that we took on the content we learned in January, and if I aced the midterm on the content we learned in January, why do I need to prove to you again in May that I understand the content?
From a researched standpoint on the other hand, cumulative finals are actually kind of good for you: Studies have proven that cumulative tests are better for memory retention, even if students only think the test will be cumulative because the way we study for cumulative tests is more effective and encourages the spacing effect.
The spacing effect, as you may have inferred, is the process of spacing out study sessions. Research has proven that the longer students go between studying the same material, the more retention they’ll have of the content. The idea here is that students study better and harder for cumulative exams because they know it’ll be harder to remember all the content on the exam, and this, in turn, causes them to retain what they learned longer.
The research behind this is intriguing in that for the most part. The main reason students do better on cumulative exams is because of their mentality going into it. They take greater care in studying because they know it will be harder to remember everything, and so, cumulative finals are an excellent motivator to get students to effectively prepare themselves.
Okay, fine, so if we’re going to take a final, I guess I’ll admit that a cumulative final is an effective motivator to make students study harder and more effectively. Relenting on that point, let’s talk about finals as a whole.
Dr. Cynthia Ackrill, who is a board member for the American Institute of Stress, told The Tab that the stress that college students go through during final exam periods has both immediate and long-term negative effects on the brain. Because getting less than five hours of sleep five nights in a row is the equivalent of being legally drunk, Ackrill even goes so far as to suggest that finals literally push some students into the brain-stress equivalent of a drinking binge.
That is crazy! Long-term stress damage for a single test — oh wait, I forgot — it’s a single test on everything you’ve learned in the class. I can appreciate that finals are both a sentimental and (begrudgingly) somewhat effective way to wrap up a class. That being said, the level of importance that finals are assigned combined with the entirety of the student body drowning in their collective stress only creates more problems, and it just doesn’t seem worth it. Despite the benefits of cumulative finals for long-term memory retention, it is unfair to push students to this level of stress studying topics that took them five months to learn in the first place, for a test that can often make or break their grade in a class.
I can only dream of the days when the Main Library would play host to therapy dogs the week of finals — after all, there is research that says playing with pups relieves college finals stress. For now, I suppose we’ll have to make do with overdosing on caffeine and having an occasional crisis in public in honor of the season. Happy finals week! May your test scores be high and your finals be (not) cumulative.
Follow Amanda Betz on Twitter
Amanda "Mandy" Betz (she/her) is a junior studying journalism and public relations. She spends her free time shopping, writing and hanging with friends.