Professors, consider taking some weight off final exams

Michael Lazenby, Columnist

Final exams should be used to gauge a student’s overall understanding of class material, not test their poise under pressure. Many students understand that finals can be helpful for assessing their comprehension; however, the unnecessary pressure from high-stakes final exams is counterproductive.

Because final exams tend to account for a larger portion of a student’s grade, students often become anxious about them. When final exams count for more than regular exams, students and their grades tend to suffer unnecessary consequences, such as stress and doubt. Professors, consider decreasing the weight of final exams to that of regular exams.

Biochemistry senior Farai Mubvumba explained her views regarding added weight on final exams.

“If all of the percentages (weights) are the same for (all) exams, then (students) have a bit of a chance to focus on specifics and the final isn’t so daunting to study for,” Mubvumba said. “(Weights) don’t test how well you can comprehend the material but more so how well you can cram the material.”

When students take normal exams throughout the entire semester and perform well, there is no reason they shouldn’t perform comparably on similarly weighted final exams. When students aren’t excessively worrying about their grades, they’re able to fully focus on studying; the opposite is the case when their final exam is worth 40% of their grade.

“Whenever a test is weighted more, there is definitely that mentality of ‘I can’t make any mistakes,’ which makes it worse,” Mubvumba said. “I think if (all exams are worth the) same percentage, then I think it’s definitely easier to look at it as something you can tackle instead of something like, ‘This is a huge part of my grade.’”

Renita Coleman, a professor in the School of Journalism and Media, sees no use in adding additional weight to final exams.

“When I first started teaching and I looked at other people’s syllabi and how they did it, I believe I may have … (added weight on final exams) when I first started out. Then I thought, ‘This is dumb, I don’t need to do this.’ I may have done that just because someone else did,” Coleman said. “As I got more confident as a teacher in my own right, I started thinking, ‘Why am I doing this?’”

While adding weight to final exams has been a longtime tradition, that is not a sufficient reason for adding undue strain on students. While it can be difficult to break tradition, professors like Coleman embrace changes that can help make finals a more lucrative and educational experience for students.

Early on, Coleman made immediate and intentional changes that helped her students showcase their retention in more practical, less stressful ways. Whether she tests comprehension through a presentation or written exam, she does not add any additional weight to final exams.

Ultimately, Coleman is concerned with measuring students’ understanding at the end of the semester, not adding more pressure to her students’ already stressful life. Coleman isn’t doing anything impossible. Taking added weight off final exams is not only feasible, but it can also have a positive impact on student retention and decrease stress during one of the most stress-filled times in their collegiate lives.

Studying for one class is stressful enough without the added pressure of your final test counting for an excessively large slice of your grade. As Coleman pointed out, there aren’t many answers as to why final exams have added weight in the first place.

A final exam is just that — an exam. As such, professors need to start treating them for what they are and apply equal weight to all exams.

Lazenby is an economics junior from Chicago, Illinois.