Op-Ed: In Defense of Finals

By Anna Yang, Assistant Editor

Payton’s 2022 Semester 1 Finals schedule started on Monday, December 19th. The Thursday of that week was a Seminar Day, and the Friday was a No-School day for students. 

Coming out of Thanksgiving Break and into the four weeks that separate students from the long-desired Winter Break was not a fun process. What made it even more difficult was the week right before Winter Break: finals week.

In previous years, finals have been incredibly inconsistent. In the first year of the pandemic, the school year of 2020-2021, remote learning made administering fair, accessible, academically honest finals a challenge. While multiple-choice Google Forms were frequent, having no tests at all was even more common. Then, in the year of 2021-2022, the Chicago Teachers Union teacher strike resulted in no-harm finals, since so many learning days were lost. It seemed there was a trend of finals becoming inconsequential.

Compared to the amount of stress finals bring to students, their worth comes into question. A survey from Inside Higher ED reported that seven out of ten teenagers named anxiety or depression as a problem in school communities, and three-quarters would describe themselves as “always feeling stressed” by school. Pressure becomes even tighter when considering the emphasis Payton culture puts on academic success, as well as the multiple time-consuming extracurriculars Payton students often take. Considering how unhelpful they appear to be, wouldn’t the best course of action be to make all finals no-harm, or even eliminate them completely?

Maybe not. 

To start with, Payton’s finals do offer some flexibility. Classes that don’t suit the finals format, such as AP Research, which focuses on a year-long research project, don’t have finals. Classes with finals may hold the test earlier than the actual finals week, staggering test times to spread out student studying times. There is also the option for teachers to replace a final with a regular test instead, which would also lessen student study load. And at the end of the year, many AP classes don’t have finals, as the AP tests the courses are centered around are over by then. 

The scheduling of finals period also offers more time off for students. At Payton, school starts a little later at 8:30 A.M. and ends a little earlier at 2:26 P.M. Classes that don’t have finals usually make their blocks a free period for students to study for other classes. Even lunch is longer at 70 minutes, and students are able to go off-campus for a break.

Additionally, for the classes that do follow the typical finals format – math, science, and English classes are usual examples – finals assist in learning. A test covering all previous content in a course forces students to review all previous material, especially earlier content that is easily forgotten. This is exactly the type of review that assists in committing concepts to long-term memory: one research study discovered that recalling content after a gap strengthens the ability to remember it in the longer term, compared to immediate recollection. Most classes also go beyond testing memorization and also test application of lessons or formulas to different problems to ensure students fully understand material. For classes like math and English, which have skills that carry through all four years of high school, long-term understanding is vital for strong academic performance.

As for making finals no-harm, that option is available for teachers, but it comes with its own downsides. Students on the cusp of a higher grade may want a big test grade as an opportunity to push them over to a B or an A.

It is undeniable that many parts of Payton’s academic structure put undue stress on students, and the current grading system offers very little room for error. But eliminating finals is unlikely to solve the problem, and may harm learning more than help it.

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