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Thursday, February 02, 2006

Can exams reduce stress and be otherwise helpful?

There’s a possibility that Weston may return to a traditional exam schedule after a decade or so of not having one. There have been many justifications for not having a final exam week:
  • An emphasis on exams increases stress.

  • Students can’t learn anything from exams that are given the last week of school, since they never see the corrected exams.

  • Massachusetts state law requires 990 hours of instruction, and a day that contains nothing but one or two exams won’t count for enough hours.

  • Exams are not appropriate for all teachers/courses. Not all teachers are willing to give exams.
So for years we’ve had the worst of both worlds. A majority of courses give exams, but students have regular classes in some subjects on the same days as they have exams in other subjects. This is the pessimal solution. How can a student concentrate in geometry when s/he has already taken a geometry “final exam” and will be taking a physics final exam the very next period?

But it looks as if we may be shifting back to the usual system of having a week devoted to nothing but exams. This traditional system has many advantages:
  1. On a given day, students can focus on one or two exams, without other obligations such as regular classes getting in the way. Stress is reduced, not increased.

  2. Students are prepared for the process of reviewing and connecting large amouns of material for an exam, which they will have to do in college.

  3. Students aren’t left with the artificial attempt to continue working in a course after they have taken a so-called “final” exam.

  4. Teachers have time to correct exams, since they’re not teaching classes at the same time.
If it’s important to review and make connections within an entire semester or year’s worth of material, then it’s important for kids to focus on exams and nothing else for four or five days at the end of the year.

For the first year in a decade, a traditional exam week may finally have the support of the administration, the Principal’s Advisory Council, student government, and a majority of departments. Let’s hope that it really gets approved.

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