By Andrew Smith
Throughout the challenging road of a class, students hit several roadblocks along the way. This can be a complex paper, an in-depth midterm or even countless assignments. After completing these, one more component of the course is lingering at the finish line: the final exam or project.
More often than not, this can be worth up to 40% of the course grade and cumulates everything the student has learned, meaning all your hard work over the semester might only be worth a little over half of the entire grade. Did you waste all of your energy on those minuscule assignments and being an active learner and participant in the classroom knowing that this single exam will strongly influence your grade at a much higher percentage?
Instead, college classes should be designed to benefit students who have worked hard the entire semester. For example, a student could have excelled in the course but had a bad day on the final exam and could see their grade drop from an A to a B+. This is not an argument on what is fair or not. Instead, the debate should be focused on the student’s work over three months, not one day or a single project.
Nicole Cecere, a senior communications major, reflected on her initial reactions when she first read a syllabus and saw how much the final exam or project was worth.
“I felt stressed when I read a syllabus that stated that the final exam was worth a good portion of the final grade,” she said. “I am not a good test taker so having so much weight on one test brought me a lot of stress. I would be worrying about the final exam throughout the whole semester rather than focusing on one assignment at a time.”
As a result, this caused Cecere to feel pressure to “get almost perfection” on the other assignments to cover herself for the final exam.
While Cecere disagrees with the final exam or project being worth a large portion of the grade, she would rather be assigned a final project if she had to pick one.
“I would 100% choose a final project over a final exam,” she said. “As a communications major, I feel I can showcase myself creatively, which allows me to best display my levels of understanding of the course material.”
A final project allows students to showcase all of the knowledge they have learned throughout the course and show that they genuinely paid attention in class and kept up with course readings. While it may still be challenging to know that the final project will be graded heavily, it gives students ample time to put their best effort into it.
However, where should the weight go if the final exam or project did not significantly affect the course grade? Cecere believes that participation should be given consideration.
“I think active class participation is the most important component in a classroom. This could be biased because of the types of classes I take, however, the way a professor is able to notice if someone is actively listening or taking notes should be key to knowing if they take their course and course material seriously.
“Someone could be an interactive student and pay extreme attention but end up being sick on the day of the final exam,” Cecere continued. “These students shouldn’t be punished for having an off day or having something that isn't particularly good to be the key component to their grade.”
Participation shows that the student is genuinely invested in the course and that they are not just going to class for the sake of it, showing their dedication over three months. However, as Cecere expresses, if students are not feeling well and struggle to take exams, they can see their grades plummet because of one bad day.
Students should be graded on their performance in the big picture and not have to worry about one exam or project hurting their grade in what may have been an otherwise productive semester.