Pros and Cons of Final Exams

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Tuesday marks the beginning of Finals Week at my school.  I’ve been teaching for nine years, and each year I change the way I have administered and developed my midterm and final exam.  I have rarely been required to follow a particular format by my administration, which was a joy but also could be taxing.  I have utilized objective assessment formats: multiple choice, fill-in-the-blank, and matching; subjective and project-based have also served as my culminating assessments.  I have reflected on the merits of the multiple formats and have determined a list of pros and cons for each.

Subjective Assessments (Multiple Choice, Fill-in-the-Blank, Matching, etc.)

Hand completing a multiple choice exam.

Hand completing a multiple choice exam.

Pros:

  • Easy to grade
  • Relatively easy to create
  • Trends in comprehension (number correct/incorrect) efficiently identified
  • Format can parallel standardized tests which allows for students to be more familiar and comfortable when assessed (ACT, SAT, state tests)

Cons:

  • Only assesses one type of learning/interpretation
  • Creating questions that truly align with objectives/standards can be difficult
  • Leaves little room for students to express themselves and their understanding
  • Little-to-no creativity or individuality allowed

Objective Assessments (Short Answer, Short Essay, Essay)

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Pros:

  • Students able to express themselves and their understanding in their own way
  • More room for individuality
  • Questions can be more easily created because they can encompass more ideas/skills

Cons:

  • Takes longer to grade
  • Some students are not strong writers
  • Addresses one learning style
  • Usually there are fewer questions (sometimes only one), therefore if it is interpreted incorrectly, students’ responses may not fully encompass their full knowledge
  • ESL/ESE students may struggle
  • Extensive rubrics required

Project-Based/Presentations

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Pros:

  • Allowance for multiple interpretations and approaches to answering the prompt
  • Creativity is encouraged
  • Application of classroom content to a real-world issue
  • Students are allowed to connect to the content in a real way
  • More learning styles are addressed
  • Collaboration is an option

Cons:

  • Requires outside of class time – teacher has little control over if it is completed
  • Developing the project requirements is more complex
  • Multiple aspects need to addressed when grading
  • Students need strong support in developing presentation skills; scaffolding required
  • Multiple days required for presentation
  • Extensive rubrics required

Conclusion

Ultimately, there is no one proper way to assess students; all formats present their advantages and disadvantages.  A good teacher who wants to truly assess their students’ complete understanding and skill level will not choose just one format, but will allow for multiple assessment formats.

End of the Year Thoughts

There are less than three weeks remaining in our school year; less than two weeks of instruction before final exams begin.  Of the six class period that I teach, three of them have been vacated by this year’s graduating class.  It hasn’t left a void in my day because those three periods have been filled with planning meetings for next year and work on the Senior Gift from the Class of 2015.  Today should be a a more peaceful day, but I do want to take advantage of this downtime and reflect on my successes for the year and ideas for improvement for the next.

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What I have learned in 2014-2015

  • Content knowledge serves only a small portion of the recipe for running a successful class.  The strategies that are utilized during instruction and guided/independent practice are far more important.  I spent a lot of my time taking courses and researching online for better practices that would support student learning.  It has paid off tremendously.
  • The number one classroom management tool that I can offer is building relationships with students.  I was lucky enough to have four of six classes with students I have taught in the past.  I felt that I was able to reach more students more effectively during instruction and guided practice activities this year versus last year.  I realize that I focused on individual students more this year than last, which ultimately resulted in more student buy-in.
  • I am not an island.  I served as English Department Chair for a second year at my current school, but have been in this position for a total of six years.  While I was able to work more effectively with students by building relationships, I was able to transfer this concept with my department team members.
  • I spent a lot of time working with/shadowing my principal this year, especially the second semester.  I sat in on observations and evaluations, reviewing resumes and interviews, and while it did take me out of my classroom, I learned so many valuable lessons about management, decision making, looking at situations from multiple points of view instead of just one, and how to respond to people in a more amiable way.  I’ve never shied away from my introvert personality traits and awkwardness when speaking to people, so this time spent with my administrator has been invaluable.
  • As much as I would like a situation to drive in one direction, if the people involved are showing clear signs that they’re not on board with me, I need to accept that disappointment and regroup before changing my plans.  This is very vague, but I’ve experienced several situations this year that made me realize that no matter how much I want one thing to happen, no matter how qualified and deserving I may feel, it ultimately doesn’t equate to results.  When I realize that my initial impressions are wrong, I need to acknowledge and accept it.  It’s not personal, it’s business.
  • Good people still exist in this world.  No matter how jaded society can appear to be, it’s important to realize that there really are good people out there who have compassion in their hearts.  When you find these people, you need to appreciate them and gravitate towards them.
  • Try something new.  You’ll find out something about yourself.  If you fail, at least you tried.  If you succeed, you’ve accomplished something. Either way, you know that you’re capable of stepping out of your comfort zone.
  • It’s ok to say no.  I found myself in a position where I had taken on so much that I was stressing out to a point of inability to function as my normal self.  I was quiet, moody, reserved, and frankly edgier than I would have found to be acceptable in other people.  I finally had to turn down a task.  It was a small one, one that was very low on the priority scale, but man did it feel good to say, “I’m not going to be able to take care of that for you.  I will be glad to help find someone who can.”  It saved my sanity.
  • Even when life gives me lemons, it gave me something.  This somewhat goes back to a former lesson I mentioned, but the BIGGEST lesson that I have learned this year, through an experience that I’m still reconciling, is that even when I am disappointed, I am truly blessed.  When Option A doesn’t work out, it’s not time to take my ball and go home.  It’s not time to be pissed off at the world. And it’s not a testimony to my value.