Finals Week: Beneficial or Detrimental to Students and Teachers?


Aly Kinzel

Waunakee is about to go into a finals week unlike any other seen before. There are many perspectives viewing the given situation around the benefits and drawbacks of virtual learning and what the students have gained and lost during the first semester of the 2020-2021 school year.

This semester, the option to even hold a final lays in the hands of the teachers. Although final exams were mandatory in the past, it wasn’t often that students would be able to luck out on not having a final in their general education classes like math or science. This year, however, it has been observed that more classes aren’t holding final exams. Physics teacher Andrew Nelson speaks for him and the other physics teachers when he says, “We decided not to have a semester exam and have a unit assessment during ‘finals week’ instead because we felt that it was the best use of the flexibility that was provided to us by the administration team.”

Many factors had to be taken into consideration when determining if a class should need a final exam or not. Nelson says, “As we were deciding whether or not to have a final exam, we looked at academic expectations, assessment security, impact on student stress and mental wellbeing among other factors. When all things were considered, we did not feel that the benefits of having exams outweighed the costs.” US History and Issues in Psychology teacher Catrina Specht agrees when she says, “I think we have to look carefully at what the purpose of the class is in deciding whether a final exam is adding anything to the learning experience.”

Projects seemed to be a hot topic among classes during finals week. Speech and Digital Communication teacher Jason McConnell notes that, “For Digital Communications, the entire class is project-based so students have a final project they design to potentially be featured on the video board at some point this spring or next fall.” Similar measures were taken in the Psychology department- according to Specht, “In Issues in Psychology, I felt that a final exam wouldn’t be necessary as we’ve been doing various projects throughout the semester to demonstrate our understanding of class material.” 

Students are definitely getting a new perspective on every ‘finals week’ they’ve ever known. “Quite honestly a big stress has been lifted off my shoulders for not having an actual finals week, but now there are multiple projects to do instead of big finals,” senior Cade Reddington claims. Senior Ellie Jaekle also notes this as a drawback when she says, “With all the smaller projects it’s harder to get your grade up, it’s kind of just stuck there.” Another downside is that seniors may not feel ready for future academic endeavors. Senior Grace Pierner says, “The problem with not having finals is I don’t feel it’s preparing me for the exams I’m going to have next year in college.”

The social aspect of finals week is another thing that students appreciate once a semester. Reddington brings light on this when he says, “In a normal finals week, as soon as our tests were done we could go hang out with friends and do something fun. I’m definitely going to miss that.” Although it may be a tough change for students to accept, Nelson points out the bigger picture of the situation: “While it may seem like ‘missing out on’ semester exams is a big deal, things will return to normal. This is one year of exams in a four year high school career. Students have had the opportunity to experience final exams in the past and the vast majority will have the chance to experience them in the future.”

So it really boils down to this: are classes without finals losing an important aspect of learning? Specht brings her opinion to light when she says, “the changes this semester may lead other classes to think about what the purpose of a final exam might be and if it best suits the design of that course. I think this year is encouraging teachers to think about what they want their students to get out of a class and updating course designs based on that.” She shares a similar viewpoint as McConnell, who notes, “Some classes may have had to restructure or condense more information than preferred, so not giving a final exam may be appropriate for those classes. Some may also be in a situation where the class is a full year, so it would also make sense to hold off on a final exam until the end of the school year. It boils down to what works best for each class in an unprecedented environment.”

There’s no questioning the fact that a new style of finals week will come after a semester of a new style of learning. For the most part, students are agreeing that not having an exam in every class is helpful considering what they’ve taken from virtual learning. Pierner notes, “with the different learning style this year it lessens the pressure for a lot of kids who had a hard time adapting to the new style of school.” Reddington very vocally agrees when he says, “It’s definitely better to not have big standardized tests on everything we learned in the semester. Online school sucks and I’m really behind in my classes.”

With an entirely new finals week structure, the students and teachers at Waunakee have to adapt to the changes they aren’t used to. There are things that people need to sacrifice at this time. Nelson shines light on this when he concludes, “There are things that we are missing out on that we once thought were obnoxious, burdensome, or mundane. There are things that we took for granted, or wished away. When normal returns to our life, we will have now experienced life without those things. Hopefully we can use this greater perspective to understand, accept, and embrace these nuances in our life moving forward.”