Final exams are always a tough thing for me. For one, I have never seen a lot of success on the ones I've given and I never learn anything useful from giving it. Because of the way grades are weighted, it is possible to do crank out As all semester long, tank the final, and not damage your semester grade that much. In fact, most A students could turn in a blank final and pass with a 75. Plus in high school kids are allowed to exempt. It's fine with me, one less thing to grade, but it kind of frames finals as a punishment for those who a) aren't in the grade allowed to exempt or b) are absent too much (even if they have a 100). The exemption thing is whatever, it doesn't bother me since there is so much face time with high school students that you don't really need the final to tell you who figured it out and who didn't. It makes complete sense why exemptions aren't allowed in college, since the final is often one of maybe three grades you get for an entire semester's worth of work. And depending on the professor, can be worth a giant chunk of your grade. Arguing for/against exemptions is not what I want to do.

Anyway, the final. A test designed to be taken in 2 hours that will tell you what, exactly? How much someone was able to cram the two days prior? That the smart kids knew everything all along? That the strugglers still struggle? I've only been giving them for a few years, but I would say less than 10% of the kids taking my final perform at a level above what they've given me all year. The so called "final miracle" is not common place and your average kid who needs one will not succeed. In fact, most do worse because they know it won't affect them much or they just didn't bother to study.

For years I had these extensive finals: 60+ questions, calculator/non-calculator sections, elaborate answer documents, requiring x method to be used, etc. But I got zero insight from these things. I graded them (took forever), they were mediocre to bleh, I showed the kids what they got and we never talked about them again.

I mused on creating some sort of elaborate project to put in place of the final (or have like a 30 question straight up problem solving section and then a project intended to take the rest of the time). I haven't quite figured out what that looks like, soccer crept up on me and I ran out of time. But I did decide one thing: there's no reason a final needs to be a million questions long. Much like the ever-loved 30 question chapter test, you usually know what you're getting about 5 questions in. So for both Algebra II and Pre-Cal, each test was in the 40-question range. Reviews could be used. Calculators could be used. They need only supply the answer in a little box next to the problem. The Pre-Cal final was but 1 two-sided page:


Short, sweet, and to the point. And like I predicted, much like its behemoth ancestor, everyone who took it performed more or less where they did all year. And it only took about 1-2 minutes per paper to grade. Makes for fun contrast to the 100-150 question social studies finals they took prior to this one.

Hopefully by spring I'll have this question/project idea figured out. The nature of my classes are such in some cases 90% of students in a given period are exempt in the spring (exemptions are extended to all grades for the spring with differing numbers of exemptions per grade. Seniors can exempt everything).

AuthorJonathan Claydon