As I’m sure most high school students would agree, final exams are grueling. When I was a sophomore, I had two of my hardest exams in one day: chemistry and geometry. But the next day, I didn’t have an exam in English, and instead, we had a project due. As much as I found that refreshing, I think that having exams to finish out the year is beneficial rather than harmful.
Today, there is a lot of controversy about the importance of giving exams to high school students. For many students, exams seem like a necessary evil: time-consuming yet inevitable. But are exams really necessary? And are they evil? I would argue that no, they are not evil. As much as I despise them and loathe sitting in the same spot for 1.5 hours, I truly believe that they have a beneficial purpose.
Good assessments aim to provide a balanced and fair evaluation of each student. They achieve this in many ways. They use a variety of strategies and tasks, giving students multiple opportunities to demonstrate what they know and can do. It also enables teachers to be confident in the accuracy of their judgments about each student. In most disciplines, there are specific bodies of knowledge that students are expected to learn. Human Anatomy students might learn about the digestive system, while history students might learn about the Cold War. Exams enable us to accurately test students’ breadth of understanding of these topics.
However, exams are one of many things that cause high schoolers immense amounts of stress. Stress and anxiety are both very common in youth nowadays. Large amounts of stress and anxiety lead to illnesses and a decreased quality of life. And I know from experience that large numbers of young people become frustrated when they fail or do not do as well as expected on an examination, which they probably prepared for throughout the whole year. For this reason, many schools are adopting the policy of abolishing exams as a whole. But in all honesty, I do not agree with that, and I think that exams should stay.
Rather than abolishing exams, I think that we should instead be asking what can teachers do to accurately capture the knowledge and intelligence of a student. Critics of exams often instead promote “deep,” “rich,” and “authentic” assessment tasks. These are typically project-based tasks that draw on students’ creativity and interest. For example, history students might be asked to choose and research a historical character in depth. Business studies students might be asked to design the pitch for a new business seeking venture capital. When I was a sophomore, my English class had a final project instead of a physical exam. The project was a lot of work and was very hard. I think that projects like that are just as beneficial as written exams. For the students who struggle with written assessments, project-based testing is an alternative option with similar results.
While exams are an accurate way of cumulating the year into a final test, project-based assessments are just as beneficial. Instead of abolishing exams as a whole, I think that exams should be looked at in a different light, in ways that benefit all types of students.