Is the return to semi-normal final exams too sudden? This student thinks so


Alden Smallwood, Arts and Entertainment Editor

As we return to a sense of normalcy at school, our end of year testing is upon us. With some teachers choosing to use open-note tests, some giving take-home, untimed assessments, and others continuing with the typical final exams, the challenges of this year continue, perhaps unnecessarily. 

A welcome change caused by the pandemic was open-note tests. Before Covid, many of my classes’ tests emphasized memorization over concepts and skills. Because there was often a rush to get through material, it was common to quickly learn concepts, memorize them for the tests, and then forget them, ultimately leading to a shallow understanding of the material. 

During the pandemic, tests changed, focusing less on surface level material than on the application and deeper understanding of concepts. Because class time was reduced this year, my sense was that teachers focused on the most important elements of the curriculum and asked questions that tested students’ ability to think critically about the material, rather than to recite what they had memorized. 

Being able to take a test from the comfort of my home also relieved a lot of the stress and testing anxiety that I felt prior to Covid. During the pandemic, many teachers assigned tests over a weekend or a few nights. I was thus able to choose a free chunk of time to take a test after I felt prepared for it. This new format was a refreshing change from the stress of monitoring a clock while rushing through the last few pages of a test, while hearing other students turn pages, wondering if I was working fast enough. 

However, as we resume an all in-person schedule, in-person testing is sure to follow. It feels quite sudden to shift from untimed take-home tests, to closed-note, 80 minute assessments. I had settled into a nice groove with my classes and teachers as I learned how to efficiently grasp concepts, while trying to keep stress levels low. The adaptations to open-note, take-home tests that focused deeply on select material instead of skimming the surface of many concepts, showed that I don’t need stressful and highly anticipated tests to learn effectively. In fact, I actually learn better when I’m focused on the material instead of the pressure to perform under timed circumstances.

 With some classes only beginning in-person tests in recent weeks, in my opinion it is premature to shift to exam-style assessments at the end of a year when recent learning has revolved around application-based tests. Not only are many returning to the pressure of taking tests closed-note and in-person, but I have been asked to recall material from an entire semester, whereas many classes have only had small quizzes thus far. Instead of the narrowly focused, low pressure quizzes from the beginning of the pandemic, I am now being required to take a cumulative exam, recalling months of material in classes where I have not even been familiarized with taking unit tests. 

In my opinion, it would be a disservice to leave behind all the lessons we have learned about test-taking during the pandemic. Our experience during Covid has shown that stressful and high stakes tests are not always necessary to learn effectively, perhaps this should lead to an assessment of the teachers’ means of assessing.