The Student News Site of Boston Latin School

Should BLS Have Finals?

June 23, 2023

(Source: Andrew Lay (II))

Yes, BLS Should Have Finals.

Are you still upset that you didn’t get the grade you wanted on your sixie Latin final? Probably not, but back then, you were so worried about it, as if your entire future counted on it. But it didn’t, and you probably do not even remember the grade you got on it.

Finals get a bad rep, but they provide a solution for something students always complain about: the idea that classes have limited value, especially since you forget so much of the content so soon. Final exams hold students accountable for their education, so it is up to them whether or not they retain the knowledge they have gained.

Cumulative assessments may be flawed, but they consistently reappear in one’s future. Many career paths require a license which must be renewed every so often by passing (you guessed it) a cumulative assessment. They are an efficient way to measure proficiency on a large scale, which is critical even past high school. They are required in college as well! As a school that aims to prepare students for future endeavors, regardless of what they are, Boston Latin School should provide a platform for students to learn how to prepare for something like a final and overcome the challenges that come along with it.

Final exams are also advantageous because they bring together all the important and necessary content covered throughout an academic year. These tests are particularly helpful for the students who will take a related class the following year. Many courses often require foundational knowledge covered in the previous academic year. Without finals, students would not have motivation to retain information for the long term. Although students might forget a significant amount of information over the course of the summer, it would be even worse without a final exam.

Since the study skills applied throughout the year are crucial for success, it is indispensable for teachers and students alike to understand what requires improvement and what is going well. It also helps administrators and teachers better understand what works and what does not since final exams are identical, regardless of the teacher. If there is no absolute standard to measure up to, what value is there in building a solid foundation throughout the year?

For all students, especially at an elite school like BLS, finals are valuable tools to prepare students for the future. Performing well on them only demonstrates a student’s progress and skills and is simply an opportunity to measure one’s understanding of a course and grow from it. This means that grades on a final exam do not always reflect a student’s performance over the course of an entire year, nor do they reflect their effort. All BLS students have been disappointed by a grade at one point or another, but what makes students exceptional is how they take those results and push themselves to grow from their mistakes.

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No, BLS Should Not Have Finals.

As the saying goes, “short-term pain for long-term gain.” Final exams at Boston Latin School, however, counter this philosophy by exchanging short-term gain for long-term pain and rewarding last-minute cramming instead of students’ critical thinking skills. When it comes to assessments that can make or break a student’s grade, it’s best to administer them correctly or not administer them at all. BLS finals clearly belongs in the latter camp. 

It is difficult to find any student walking the halls of BLS who truly likes the current model of finals, and for good reason: it is terrible. Whether it’s math, history or science, today’s finals merely evaluate a student’s ability to regurgitate formulas, vocabulary and dates that are briefly mentioned throughout the year — rather than the ability to think critically and understand the material at hand. Many classes additionally spend only around five days reviewing 30 or more weeks of material. This short preparation period forces students to spend inordinate amounts of extra time memorizing information, which damages their physical and mental health.

How BLS administers finals, moreover, is absurd. During the three days of end-of-year testing, students take not one, but two finals per day, with normal classes and lunch in between. Unlike many schools, which hold only one or two tests per day and then dismiss their students, BLS and Boston Public Schools insist that its students, as “overachievers,” must continue attending regular classes alongside finals. There is a fine line between making students sweat and making them want to cry, and the BLS finals system is markedly crossing it.

Brian Huang (III) comments on this disconnect: “It’d be better to just show up at the school, take the exam and leave since students would have had sufficient preparation before test day.”

In theory, it is critical to have an in-depth understanding of subject matters and to hold students accountable for their performance throughout the year. Finals and testing at BLS, however, generally miss the mark when it comes to what school is really about. Rather than focusing on fostering a knowledge of content that students will retain well after they graduate, BLS finals, administered by teachers who have spent a lifetime in their field, often get lost in a focus on the fine details of a subject.

Ultimately, the question is not whether BLS should assess students, but how BLS should do it. Tests evaluating four terms’ worth of knowledge, administered back-to-back over three days that determine a large portion of a student’s grade are certainly not the appropriate way to execute finals. If finals aren’t done well, they shouldn’t be done at all.

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