Meltzner: We need to change the final grading structure

Finals+week+survival+guide+photo+illustration+%28Collegian+file+photo%29

Finals week survival guide photo illustration (Collegian file photo)

JD Meltzner, Collegian Columnist

Editor’s Note: All opinion section content reflects the views of the individual author only and does not represent a stance taken by The Collegian or its editorial board.

December on Colorado State University’s campus is marked by the looming threat of finals week. The Morgan Library is filled to the brim well past midnight each night, and a general air of panic fills the campus.

Ad

It’s also marked by a dreaded biannual tradition that many students participate in, including myself — the obsessive calculating of possible final grades.

This tradition highlights the true absurdity of finals week. It’s absurd that one’s grade weight can be twisted to their advantage with careful calculation and that each final for each class has the power to ruin or rescue grades in one fell swoop.

“When several weeks’ worth of homework assignments amount to only 15% in a grade book, it’s easy to see how a single test worth 25% or higher can outweigh a handful of missing homework assignments from having any impact on a final grade.”

It is a system built to facilitate the failure of students, and it is something that must be addressed as college degrees become more competitive.

Some arguments focus on removing the cumulative final, but this is not enough to change the culture of physically damaging levels of stress, useless bouts of cramming and extreme emotional exhaustion that is linked to finals week.

During the pandemic, some teachers tried replacing traditional exams with different, more engaging and less strenuous options that similarly tested their course knowledge. Unfortunately, at least at the collegiate level, this seems like a flash in the pan sparked by the overwhelming conditions of the pandemic rather than a real push to change the culture surrounding finals week.

At the high school level, however, school districts across the nation have either eliminated finals altogether or moved to a model that spreads assessments out over a series of intervals.

This does not address the issue with finals at the collegiate level, which is twofold. One problem is the amount of tests, essays and projects due in such an extremely short period of time, and the other is the insane amount of power that finals wield over the grade book.

“The way finals is set up just makes it almost impossible to give every class the time needed,” said August Bernsten, a senior finance major at CSU.

Bernsten said he wished “there was a way that we could set up finals based on each student’s schedules; maybe that way there wouldn’t be such an overlap in tests and projects.”

Bernsten believes this sentiment is shared among his peers.

Ad

“I know that a lot of my friends are dealing with the same kind of issues, and I know that some of (them) are trying to pull perfect scores just because they’ve been banking on the final to pull their grade up,” Bernsten said.

“Our academic futures should not be decided by the results of a few weeks of schoolwork, and we should not be forced to forfeit grades in some areas for better grades in others.”

This testifies to the struggle so many students have in prioritizing assignments and allotting their precious time during finals week. It also speaks to the power finals are given, which is evident of a larger toxic situation prevalent on campuses across America.

Finals week can act as a sort of clean slate since it can seemingly erase poor grades and other blights in the grade book from early-semester mistakes. When several weeks’ worth of homework assignments amount to only 15% in a grade book, it’s easy to see how a single test worth 25% or higher can outweigh a handful of missing homework assignments from having any impact on a final grade.

This goes both ways. Other students might worry that less-than-outstanding grades on finals could evaporate the hard work they’ve put into the class on assignments that don’t impact the grade book the way final assessments can.

Recently, my roommates and I experienced something like this. Instead of discussing what we had actually learned from the content of our courses, we fixated on what we would need to score on our final exams and where we could maximize the grade weight of potential extra credit in order to pass.

We need to do away with an antiquated system that, when integrated into the intense structure of college as it stands today, creates unfair power imbalances in the grade book that make it nearly impossible for students to succeed on all fronts.

We need a new system that doesn’t enable conversations on how to exploit, work around or simply survive the archaic tradition of finals week. Our academic futures should not be decided by the results of a few weeks of schoolwork, and we should not be forced to forfeit grades in some areas for better grades in others.

Reach JD Meltzner at letters@collegian.com or on Twitter @jd_meltzner