Pondering Mid-Term and Final Exams – What’s The Point?

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My son’s school will have mid-term exams next week and Burlington High will have them the following week. As I think about this annual event, I can’t help wondering why we even bother with these types of assessments. My understanding is that, in most cases, students will be preparing for tests that require a great deal of memorization and regurgitation of information and provide very little opportunity for students to demonstrate higher-level thinking skills.

While I am sure that a large part of the reason that we continue to administer these types of exams is to prepare students for what they will face in college, I think it’s well past the time where we do things just because they may happen at institutions of higher education.  The fact is that there is little value in students cramming large amounts of factual information into their heads for examinations in this day and age.  As Clive Thompson cites in his book Smarter Than You Think in regards to the Ebbinghaus Curve of Forgetting:

“More than half of our facts are gone in an hour, about two thirds are gone within a day, and within a month we’re down to about 20 percent.”

What are we really proving with these “Major Exams” that, in many cases, count for a huge portion of the term and/or semester grade? Couldn’t we alleviate a lot of stress by doing away with them an think of more creative ways to allow students to showcase their learning? 

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