I’m sure we’ve all experienced the heart-palpitating, sweat-producing and brain-fogging anxiety that is undoubtedly related to the word “exam.” Whether it’s a unit exam, midterm or final, exams bring a wave of unnecessary stress among students that can alter our performance. In my opinion, there are other and better ways to demonstrate the knowledge we have acquired and how we can apply it, instead of simply memorizing it.
I’m a big fan and supporter of final papers and final projects. Hold your fire, let me tell you why I believe we need some sort of examination. In one way or another, we are paying for our education; therefore, we should probably try to understand the information we are paying for. I have found that whenever I am assigned a prolonged final project or a paper, I must force myself to grasp the material before I can even begin. It’s hard to write a paper or do a project on a subject you don’t understand one bit. When composing a multiple-part essay or project, you essentially break down the information individually and then relate it. That step-by-step process forces your brain to understand, one way or another. Exams, on the other hand, induce an urge to cram the information and memorize details instead of comprehending and applying the material.
Let’s forget about the material for a second and focus on the effects that studying for finals has on students. Even though I find final projects and papers to be just as stressful, it’s a different kind of stress, with very different consequences and longevity. According to the National Library of Medicine, there is a high correlation between depression and anxiety caused by exams. They also found that among the major challenges that students face throughout their educational journeys, test anxiety and depression sit at the top. Even though these factors vary for everyone individually, I believe that reducing any unnecessary stress from students is essential for them to have a successful academic experience.
Some classes benefit more from exams rather than critical thinking assignments, so this doesn’t apply universally. What should apply to the general student population is the importance of prioritizing one’s well-being and education. When I say education, I’m not referring to the letters that determine our grades, I’m talking about being able to enjoy the studies we work hard for.
Let me give you a current example from my life: I am currently working on one final project, two final papers and studying for one final exam. I would say my stress levels for my papers and my project are fairly low because I can work on them a little bit each day and my professors are available to attend to any concerns I may have. My stress levels for my final exam are at an all-time high. Even though I was given the format, time limit and topics ahead of time, I cannot get the exam out of my head. My plan revolves around memorizing rather than understanding because I have two hours to pour out any piece of information I can remember. Exams encourage memorization, whereas projects encourage application.
The biggest favor I ask of anyone reading this is please take finals easy on yourself. You are worth way more than a letter on your student portal.