Dr Maryellen Weimer writes this week’s article on cumulative exams. Students often express worry over the possibility that their finals encompass a whole semester’s worth of material.
Although teachers should not ignore or discount student preferences across the board, there is the larger issue of which testing procedures best promote deep learning and lasting retention of course content. The evidence on the side of cumulative exams and finals is pretty much overwhelming, and those empirical results should not come as a surprise. An exam with questions on current and previous content encourages continued interaction with course material, and the more students deal with the content, the better the chances they will remember it. Students don’t like cumulative exams for the very reason they ought to be used: preparing for them requires more time and energy devoted to understanding and remembering course content.
What are we to do if students dislike a particular evaluation, yet that evaluation is the very center of evaluation of deep learning? Dr Weimer argues that professors should involve students in the rationale behind such exams from the beginning and offer them tools to make the process more approachable.