This morning, The Huffington Post College tweeted about a Harvard Magazine article discussing a new frontier in higher education: school without final exams.
According the Harvard article, appropriately titled “Bye-Bye Blue Books?,” exams haven’t bitten the dust yet at the Ivy League school. However, the number of undergraduate and graduate courses in which faculty administer a final is shockingly low: Less than 300 exams for over 1100 undergraduate courses and less than 15 for over 500 graduate courses.
As a student at a university that considers itself “The Harvard of the Midwest” (a school that also boasts a president who is a Harvard PhD and former associate dean at the university), I was intrigued to read about one of the oldest universities in the country potentially leaving behind a traditional part of the college experience.
But then again, I shouldn’t be surprised. I’ve never had a full load of final exams the first three years of my college career, and I probably never will.
Part of this is thanks to my status as an English Writing major. My writing workshop courses usually require a writing portfolio to be turned in at the end.
However, several other courses I’ve taken have simply required a paper as the key to freedom from the class. Sometimes the paper has been a lengthy, final research paper. Sometimes it’s just a simple 5-7 page blurb about the last portion of the course.
While the portfolios–usually consisting of multiple drafts of multiple pieces of work–and papers are work, the hours spent writing, editing, rewriting, printing, and organizing are nothing compared to what I would have spent stressing and studying over a final assessment.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’ve had my fair share of finals. I’ve had an occasional semester with three. But there’s always at least one, usually more, that forgoes an exam and gives me a little extra three-hour hole in my exam week schedule. Some of my friends haven’t been so lucky, and full loads of exams still exist. However, they’re few and far between.
What is the future of the exam in academia? I’m not really sure. The issue of whether or not students are being assessed on their knowledge of the course when no exam is given is up for debate. As a student I could easily live with without them. I’ve walked away from final-free courses learning a lot. Then again, without a test looming, my attention span and note taking in a class dwindles.
Any thoughts on the exciting world of exams? Do most of your classes have them?
I’ll be curious to see just how many of my senior year courses actually do have exams. I’m not holding my breath that all of them will.