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7 Things You Didn't Know About Final Exams

Final exams are disappearing. Fewer professors are inflicting this end-of-semester torture on their students.

At Harvard, for instance, students in a mere 259 of the university's 1,137 undergraduate courses had to take final exams during the spring semester, according to the Boston Globe. Professors across the country have also been putting less emphasis on finals. At the University of Arizona, about a third of the professors have reduced the value of final exams in students' grades.

Here are seven more things you probably didn't know about final exams:

2. Final exams used to be a lot worse.

In the early years of Harvard (we're talking 1600's), students had to take oral exams that required students to memorize a lot of text and then recite it back to the teacher. These exams didn't require much, if any, intellectual firepower, just a good memory.

3. Written finals have been around since the 1830s

Go ahead and blame the end-of-semester finals on Yale and Harvard, which introduced these written examinations around the time that Charles Darwin was a young graduate student.

4. RateMyProfessor.com is intimidating professors.

Okay, this is just speculation on my part, but I can't help but think that non-tenured professors are leery of upsetting their students by putting them through finals. Angry students can write nasty things on RateMyProfessors and other teacher evaluation sites. And tenure committees will look at student evaluations.

5. Laziness = Less Final Exams.

Some higher-ed observers are suggesting that professors may be nixing final exams because they don't want to proctor the rooms. Due to budget cutbacks, some professors, rather than teaching assistants, must sit in the lecture halls during final exams to make sure their students don't cheat.

6. Students retain more without finals.

Studies have shown that students learn more when they are tested at regular intervals rather than one all-important final exam. In one study of college students taking algebra, for example, the students who took frequent quizzes fared 16% better than those who were tested traditionally.

7. Students prefer smaller tests.

Not surprisingly, polls have shown that students overwhelmingly favor smaller, regular tests rather than an all-important final.

Lynn O'Shaughnessy is the author of The College Solution and she also writes for TheCollegeSolutionBlog.
Final exam image by drgandy. CC 2.0.