What Happened to the Final Exam?

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According to a piece in Harvard Magazine the school’s faculty recently adopted a policy such that final examinations will no longer be automatically scheduled for all classes, “the assumption shall be that the instructor will not be giving a three-hour final examination,” unless the professor specifically schedules the examination in advance. The article explains:

It appears that finals are going the way of the dodo. Harris told the faculty that of 1,137 undergraduate-level courses this spring term, 259 scheduled finals—the lowest number since 2002, when 200 fewer courses were offered. For the more than 500 graduate-level courses offered, just 14 had finals, he reported. Until the 1940s… requests to conclude a course without a final examination required a formal vote by the entire [faculty].

Of course, back in the 1940s students could also smoke in class and Harvard College didn’t admit women.

Harvard alums Checker Finn and Mickey Muldoon are troubled by this new policy, grumbling in the National Review that because the school is “a pacesetter in education” the school’s decision is trouble for American higher education:

Without exams to prove it, how can students be sure that they are “generally educated” when they graduate? How can the institution itself be sure? Or doesn’t it care?

It’s actually a little too late to worry about that one school in Cambridge. It appears that at colleges all over America the number of courses with final examinations is in decline. Or, at any rate, professors are counting finals for less of the total grade.

This may be because professors discovered that it was more important to measure progress on quizzes or the importance of term papers. More likely course finals matter less now because as college courses got bigger, it just became more trouble to administer and grade examinations. [Image via]

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer