Under Examination

I had a final exam today. I am torn between loving and hating final exams. I dislike the way that they held at the end of the semester. You go in, take your final, and usually the only feedback that you get is in the form of a final grade (this is at BU. At ASU the final exam score was also posted online.). What this process lacks is any valuable feedback from the instructor on areas that you need to improve upon. Granted, by the time the final exam rolls around you should have developed a pretty thorough dialogue with your instructor through projects, tests, and in-class participation, but I still think that if the final exam serves as your final assessment of ability within a particular subject, the feedback for the final is vital to your development. For this reason I like when instructors give final exams the week before classes end, and then use the actual final period as time to meet with individuals and discuss the outcomes of the exam. This causes me to question the purpose of finals. Students are led to believe that the exams act as a measurement of competency. However, in reality the exams act more as a pass-fail signifier to others (potential employers, other teachers etc.) rather than as any useful educational tool. Final exams are a systematic tool, not an educational too. For this reason, they are sort of pointless and I hate having to take them.
Except that I don’t. I love final exams. I am thrilled by sitting exams. During an exam there is a certain amount of focus and flow that I experience. I love using my final exams as a chance to reflect on how much I have learned throughout the semester, and as a chance to show off my new skills. I love sitting down and solving a problem which ultimately rests in theory and does not have any impact in the world further than my grade. It is an hour and a half of completely selfish, introspective time that I rarely allow myself to enjoy outside of exams. Furthermore the situation of the exam is difficult to replicate. There is just enough risk to make it interesting and inspire a bit of adrenaline and the situation does not allow outside distractions. For this reason I prefer final exams to final papers, even though I like that I keep a copy of final papers which may have been useless in my first few years of university but are now shaping into a coherent portfolio which may be useful for future graduate studies.
That being said, I absolutely hate creating and administering tests. I believe that some people enjoy the control that they experience when they write and/or administer exams, but for me it is absolutely terrifying. I feel like writing tests allows students to judge me more than I am able too judge them, and my shortcomings are exposed to 30 people as opposed to just one teacher. At the same time, my student’s success on a test is a reflection of my teaching ability, so I have a lot of investment and hope in the exams. Also, I hate having to give bad marks on an exam. I do not mind giving constructive criticism, but as I have explained, I do not think that the examination process lends itself to construction, only measurement and judgement.
Overall I suppose that I am against the current process of examination. In a Fouccautian sense it is very restrictive and only serves to reinforce the power imbalance between the expert and the individual. It does not empower, construct, build, or create. If I was able to design a school system final exams would be replaced with final portfolios and exit interviews. However, in the current huge world where no one knows anyone that you passed exams is still relevant, unfortunately. Until then I will just continue to enjoy the personal experience of it while I can.

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