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Final Exams: Yay or Nay?

It’s the last week of classes at Washington and Lee University, which can only mean that finals are right around the corner. So how well does a final exam actually assess student learning? It’s a question The Chronicle of Higher Education recently asked W&L alumnus Henry L. “Roddy” Roediger III ’69, a professor of psychology at Washington University in St. Louis. Unfortunately for the students, who have to take them — and the faculty, who have to grade them — he thinks final exams are a pretty good way to evaluate what student have learned over the course of a semester.

Roddy, who co-authored “Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning,” said, “Unless you have a cumulative final exam, you don’t get students to review the information from the early part of the course again at the end of the course. I do think final exams are good.”

He added, “As long as you have an exam that asks deep, meaningful questions, questions that make people interrelate and integrate things across the course, they’re not just a measurement instrument, but they are a very important learning instrument.”

He notes the best way to learn material is to constantly test one’s self. Students who outline the material and paraphrase it in their own words are able to more easily remember what they’ve learned later on. It might be too late for this round of tests, but it’s something to keep in mind for next term.

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