No, BLS Should Not Have Finals.

By Roan Wilcox (III), Staff Writer

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.