Opinion: Final exams are weighted too high

These assessments should not be worth more than every other assignment done in a semester.


Kiran Komanduri

(Kiran Komanduri for WSN)

Molly Koch, Deputy Opinion Editor

This semester, I tragically encountered every student’s biggest fear: a final worth 50% of my grade. Meaning that this final, which also happened to be a lecture-style presentation for the entire 1 hour and 15 minute class, would outweigh every other assignment I had done the whole rest of the semester. To say I was anxious would be an understatement, considering it kept me awake the entire night before. 

While final exams can be an opportunity for students to show what they have learned over the semester, they can unbalance grading systems and devalue other classwork when they are too heavily weighted. Course grades that place too much importance on final exam grades fail to evaluate students’ semester-long performance holistically. 

Making these exams so consequential makes them more stressful for students, leading them to perform worse than they might have if they were worth less of their grade. Finals week is widely regarded as the most stressful time in the semester, with excessively weighted exams only adding to what is already a difficult situation. For students who have trouble taking tests or experience test anxiety, this can be particularly challenging.

Final exams with a lot of weight can also encourage students to take on a cram-and-forget mentality with their classwork, rather than retain information in the long term. Professors can evaluate students’ knowledge more accurately by taking a nuanced approach to grading, focusing on the effort students put into assignments and semester-long progression rather than one all-encompassing final exam.

Since final exams cover so much in so little time, they rarely give students the chance to show what they really know about the subject matter. Other assignments given throughout the year can provide a much better way to measure students’ understanding. Assignments like presentations, essays or research papers often require hours of work over an extended period of time, giving students the opportunity to closely analyze course material. A project that requires in-depth research and pages of writing should not be weighted less than one two-hour exam.

Heavily weighted final exams that cram an entire semester’s worth of content into one test or presentation also reward rote memorization over critical thinking and original problem-solving. This means that students who have been working hard in a course but have trouble with memorization may perform worse than some of their peers who put less effort into the class. For students who invested a lot of time and energy into other assignments throughout the semester, it might be discouraging to see all of their hard work undone by a single test. 

Final exams are a useful tool for assessment, but putting too much weight on them hinders learning and undervalues the rest of the work done in class all semester long. There are other ways to measure how well a student understands the course material, ways that are both fairer and much less stressful than a final exam that effectively determines your grade.

WSN’s Opinion section strives to publish ideas worth discussing. The views presented in the Opinion section are solely the views of the writer.

Contact Molly Koch at [email protected].