Unlike most students, I never minded taking big exams—it was a necessary evil. And I never questioned why we took them because I had been doing it my whole life. But is there really any reason we take them in high school?
Most argue we take finals for college preparedness and to confirm general understanding of the course, but isn’t that why we take AP tests? Now, not everyone is enrolled in AP courses, but shouldn’t your overall grade in any class fairly reflect your understanding of the material? Pardon my assumption that grades reflect knowledge.
These end-of-the-semester tests were—now that they’ve been removed from the district—each only 10 percent of the overall grade anyway, hardly preparing students for massive college finals that could drop you from top of the heap to utterly mediocre in one stroke of a pen.
By the end of the year, most high school students find finals laughable, bragging to their friends about the 31 percent they need to keep their A’s. Not everyone has such an easy time with these tests, but, nonetheless, grades are so deeply cemented in place that the only students who fear the finals are the ones who are trying to snatch a higher letter grade at the last second or those who are desperately hanging on to the grade they currently have.
Despite the lack of pressure that many of these tests place on students, many find themselves studying anyway, in fear of dropping a letter grade. Frankly, if you earn a 31 percent on the final, you probably deserve to drop more than a letter grade, but very few students do because the test is generally redundant and teachers begin preparing students from the beginning of the course.
I don’t mean to sound as if I breeze through finals; I don’t. There have been a select few that made me sweat, but the overwhelming majority have made such a small impact to my overall grade that I hardly remember taking them.
Almost all students here are guilty of grade obsession, but it has deteriorated our internal reward system. There is little satisfaction in mastering a concept or subject area—only great joy when a grand, shining A is emblazoned upon our high school transcript. Desire to place yourself in the highest tier of students in the class is a noble effort, but we must not misinterpret the grading system with the true purpose of school: to spark intellectual curiosity among students.
Finals are tedious and seemingly pointless, so it is a sigh of sweet relief to know they are gone, never to return. But there are common assessments to replace them, so we’ll see how that turns out.