(Photo courtesy of WikiHow) “Nearly every college class has some form of final test or assignment.”
In most of the courses that students take at any higher education institution, including UMass Lowell, they are given a final assignment from a professor. This could be in the form of an exam, an essay or a project. These final assignment models have been around for quite some time, but do they fulfill the purpose of what a final assignment is supposed to do?
The purpose of a final assignment in any course, regardless of subject matter, is to see what students have learned in the course and the skills that they have gained. Common assignments almost always address part of this course, but some ways of measuring skills and knowledge are better than others.
Final exams are one of the common ways that professors test students. These exams may or may not be cumulative, which is up to the professor’s discretion, though it will have to be fair and only have questions on concepts that were covered in class.
Exams somewhat fulfill the purpose of a final assignment. Depending on the professor, the traditional final exam may consist of multiple choice questions, short answers and mini essays. Obviously exams test students on what they have learned to see if they have taken good notes and were paying attention in class, but it somewhat tests the skills they have gained from the course depending on the subject matter.
For example, in science courses where professors are lecturing to students, the only skill you are probably gaining from these lectures is just memorizing information for a test, but not applying it to a scenario at all. There are no tests out there in the real world, you will instead probably have some kind of reference manual to this information.
In literature classes, you may have to take an exam that consists of questions asking you to identify who said a certain quote from a work of literature and the significance of it as well as an essay prompt. In these kinds of “passage classification exams,” you are identifying, analyzing, interpreting and making an argument. Doesn’t this sound familiar to you of some other kind of final assignment? If it does, you are already doing it in an essay.
Essays are another kind of final assignment that is given by professors, usually in literature and social science classes. Essays are a great way for students to apply the information they have learned in class and analyze it. For example, in any literature class, students gain analyzing, interpreting and identifying skills to make an argument about one or more works of literature.
Essays are a great way to showcase these skills because you are getting your hands dirty by seeing what you notice between one or more works of literature in order to make your argument. While a literature professor could assign an exam to showcase these skills, it is just redundant to ask students to do it again but this time, in the form of an exam that is probably timed mostly.
Projects are another final assignment that professors will give out. A project is where you not only get creative, but you are applying the skills that the professors has discussed in class.
For example, in one of my journalism and professional writing courses, I remember doing a project where I was trying to persuade the UMass Lowell’s Board of Trustees to not increase tuition for the 2023-2024 school year. Before I even began touching a web software, I had to plan out where certain images, videos and information would appear in my slideshow to persuade them.
Projects do fulfill the purpose of a final assignment because you are applying the information and skills gained in the course to a situation and not simply memorizing information where it is not being applied.
I believe that the current models are useful in meeting the purpose of a final assignment, but it depends on the subject I would say. Science courses should use case studies to actually apply the information that students learned to get a sense on what to do in these “what-if” scenarios on how to identify unknown animals, substances and so forth. Memorizing information is great, but applying it to some situation or scenario will prepare students for life outside of school and ready for the workplace.