Final projects over final exams

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Why is it always the loudest people who have access to the megaphones? MPCA Photos via Flickr

“We’ve always done it this way” isn’t a good enough reason to continue doing things that way

by rayanne gwilliam, contributor

There may be some people who agree with what I’m going to say already, and some may not. For the people who don’t, I’m going to ask that you keep an open mind to the points I’m about to make, because you might change your mind by the end of this.

Personally, I feel that final projects are better than final exams in a class for several reasons, one of those reasons being that a lot of people struggle with test anxiety. I’m not one of those people, however I can empathize with how difficult that could be. Even when you’re not dealing with something like that which often impacts your concentration, you can still blank on a question or two. But it’s going to be much more difficult not to if you struggle with that. Yes, there are coping strategies and there’s help that student can get from the university itself at the testing centre, and that’s great. However, it’s still an extra stress for students to deal with that arguably isn’t necessary.

I realize that’s a bold statement, but it’s important to consider that final projects are more realistic in terms of the expectations that we will later encounter when in the workplace. If we’re getting a degree, diploma, or certificate in anything, the end goal is employment in that field. Realistically, once you’re employed somewhere, they’re not going to have you taking minutes at a business meeting and expecting you to have them memorized with the ability to recite all the information. They aren’t going to be concerned whether you to know the definition and examples of a concept, but rather if you know how to apply the procedures associated with it. Formal tests are much more about a student’s ability to memorize information and recall it. However, due to the fact they often have multiple finals and are only going to put their energy in the decidedly important information, it’s likely a lot of it may be forgotten shortly after the test ends. In the long run, though the ability to memorize and recall is a good thing, it’s not going to stack up against the ability to take the information and apply it to the skills needed with a job.

Here lies a crucial difference between final exams and final projects. Final projects allow the student access to all the information, as well as a practical example of how the information will be utilized to complete a task. It minimizes the stress of needing to have everything memorized, as well as having a less reasonable deadline of only a couple of hours to showcase everything you may have learned in a course. It also minimizes or removes the test anxiety for students, which often reflects in their grade. Even if a student is doing well all year and has a high average, if they’re a bad test taker they could have a significant drop in their grade. If a final project is done, on the other hand, they may retain or even boost their final grade.

I understand the appeal of final exams in that they’re controlled environments, take less time to grade and complete, etc. However, one could argue that the preparation of the test itself and the studying involved equalizes that second benefit. There may also be some fields where the benefits of skills used in a final exam are just as important as the ones that come from doing final projects, and that’s understandable. Often in those cases, many large projects are used to build those applied skills. This is simply just a conversation that should be had regarding the universal standard testing practices within education. While I don’t mean to question the authenticity or knowledge of those involved, I do believe continuous evaluation and innovation is important. It is a fair request to review and implement other options, such as open-book tests, final projects, and final exams, to get the most skill building and utilization out of a course and our educational institution.

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