Cumulative exams are a problem


In the wake of finals, students crowd into popular study spots like the library to cram for a few weeks an entire semester’s worth of information for a few tests — but is this a fair assessment of students? | Justin Cross/The Cougar

It’s the end of the semester and you’re running on empty. Months of late nights cramming information into your brain are almost at their end, but one thing stands in the way: a cumulative final exam.

More than likely, you’ve known about the exam all semester, but that still does not take the sting away. All the chapters you’ve covered this semester and the information you have learned in lecture thus far will be on the exam.

Is this fair?

“I think cumulative finals are pretty fair,” corporate communications junior Myles Morales said. “The way I see it is they just test our knowledge of what we learned over the course of the semester.”

On paper, the cumulative final exam makes a lot of sense: professors want to know if you deserve the class credit by making sure you know the information they have taught you in the semester. The logic is sound, but upon digging, you will find that these tests are not fair and may not even necessarily be the most effective way to assess knowledge.

“In theory cumulative tests are a great way to see if a student has processed all they have learned throughout the semester,” public relations freshman Elise Tobias said. “To me, a student should be tested on what is current and not what has been.”

You have already been tested on three-fourths of what will be on a cumulative final exam, so why be tested on it again?

A contrarian might say, “Well, if you were tested on it once, then shouldn’t you know it the second time around?”

A valid point, yet the multiple choice format of tests is set up to encourage memorization instead of actual learning and application. A student should not be punished for forgetting the ins and outs of what was covered in the first few weeks of class.

“I’ve always felt uneasy about final exams,” finance senior Hana Bekiri said. “Cumulative exams create extreme fear and an overwhelming amount of stress. A fear of failing or being unable to recall something from months ago is something that weighs heavily on the minds of students.”

Besides the expectation of remembering earlier material, the final exam usually comes with added information from what you have covered since the last test. Not only must you recall information from chapter one, but you better also have a grasp on chapter 15.

It is not uncommon for these exams to weigh up to 30 percent of your class average. Theoretically, a student can perform well on all other exams and coursework, yet still fail or drop multiple letter grades due to the final. We are putting a tremendous amount of significance on the type of exams students will take while sleep-deprived and filled with information from multiple classes.

“Realistically, most students take three to five classes each semester and have a hard time keeping up with the giant load of current information they have been given,” Tobias said.

I am calling for a re-examination of the system that appears to be flawed. The entire premise of a cumulative final exam is to test what you know, but there are more practical ways to do this.

It would seem far more sensible to assign an essay or project on an encompassing topic within the subject. This would ensure that the students can apply their knowledge to the topic in a logical way.
In an ideal scenario, students would have a week or two to complete the assignment that allows time for additional research and exploration into the subject matter. With adequate time to dive into the material, we will see improved learning in a creative manner.

The inventive approach would encourage wholesome learning rather than the one where memorization is prized and the information is let go post-exam.

It is time to consider re-examining the finals.

“In the grand scheme of things, cumulative exams aren’t fair and are not the best way to test a student of their understanding of the course,” Bekiri said. “Students should be able to prove themselves with their performance throughout the semester. A final should be just that, one last push to finally end the semester.”

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  • It doesn’t matter how you shift the focus of what student are graded on, the procrastinating nature of students will always be the culprit. If you made the “final” a paper or presentation you would arrive at the same problems some people have with final exams: everyone will wait until the last god given second to do it. The difference being that a final presentation comes with the stigma that not a lot of people are good at getting in front of people and talking, and a final paper comes with the notion that some people are not good at writing/researching.

    At the end of the day, the final exam format is usually the easiest for students and professors alike. Granted, it doesn’t exactly feel like it when 30-50% of your grade hinges on you doing well on the final.

    When you say that student’s don’t retain the material they study on for a final that is again the fault of procrastinating students. Studies say that in order to do well in a class that you are supposed to study 3 hours a week outside of class for every hour you are in class. So that means that if you’re taking a 12 hour load you’re supposed to be studying pretty much another 40 hours a week outside of class. I can’t think of a single person I have ever met who abides by that. That’s the reason people are cramming an entire course worth of material in the last couple weeks of school because they never put in the time to truly retain the information they had already learned, so relearn it they must.

  • With Regan … students should not burdened with any undue stress. Remember … Nakea Winfield says that most students on campus smoke weed, so the recalling of so-called pesky facts learned earlier may be a hard thing to do come exam day.

    Here’s a solution Regan … and it would work well with Bernie’s platform … all exams should be multiple choice with only one answer choice … instead of the other 3 or 4 other false choices that can confuse drugged-out UH students.

  • “Cumulative” finals are not universal across all disciples at UH. Many profs use final projects already for exactly the reasons you name and have for years in my experience as a senior undergrad. The writer’s complaint is sadly misinformed.

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