Time to ditch the exams

Professors should consider alternatives to final exams in their courses.

by Ronald Dixon

As finals draw near, students prepare for their last, often comprehensive assignments. Instead of planning tests, however, instructors should consider assigning papers and projects as an alternative.

Throughout my undergraduate experience as a political science major, I have found that I generally benefit more from writing-intensive courses than classes with exams.

The University of Minnesota Center for Teaching and Learning offers educators alternatives to final exams, including demonstrations and portfolios. The goal of these alternatives is to switch up the testing styles, allowing students to understand exactly what educators want them to learn.

Students can get more out of final assignments that involve a paper or project. These assignments require students to synthesize course texts, lecture notes and/or outside research to produce a comprehensive package.

Tests may force students to memorize an entire course’s teachings in a short time — or even cram the night before. A paper or project allows students to commit teachings to memory through applying their notes, readings and research.

Papers and projects are also more practical for the real world. I do not support the neoliberal view of higher ed, wherein an education is a way to make money and establish a career. However, if one wants an education that interacts with the community, then exams could do more to help the students.

A paper or project requires skills that better reflect what students will need in real-world scenarios. Whether they’ll need to draft memos or letters, send emails or collaborate on a presentation, writing is good practice for future careers.

This idea is not limited to College of Liberal Arts majors. Engineering students, for example, could use these alternatives to prepare for the professional world. Students could collaborate on a project and/or write a final lab report instead of having a myriad of final exams.

No matter the academic discipline, educators should consider working alternatives to final exams. Students may learn more, and alternatives may increase what they actually remember from the course.