The two semesters at Pace end with a week of burdensome exams that create a stressful atmosphere, contribute to students’ anxiety and do more harm than good. The upper school exam policy needs to be changed in order to help students as well as teachers.
Exams test a student’s ability to memorize a seemingly endless number of facts, formulas and words in the hopes that the student will remember them for the rest of their days in school. Students are expected to know perfectly a vast amount of information in numerous subjects within the stretch of a week. This hinders the students’ ability to show their understanding of subjects, because of the stress and amount of information they are tested on. Students are already tested on the material throughout the year in more manageable sections with lower anxiety, which is a better demonstration of students’ knowledge. I know exams will never be abolished, and they do serve some purpose; however, Pace’s exam policy can be improved.
First, the material covered on the exams can be reduced. Second semester exams for certain subjects should not be cumulative. I can understand why foreign languages and the major concepts of math and science from first semester are needed for second semester exams, because they are needed to be applied to second semester information. However, history and English should not be cumulative. Trying to recall a book you read the first week of the first semester of school is nearly impossible after having read countless other books since then, and remembering a country’s entire history from the eleventh century to present day would be inconceivable, even if that was the only exam the student was taking. Cumulative exams also create redundancies, because half of the material was already tested on the first semester exam. Teachers should also more clearly define what material is going to be covered on exams, so students do not waste time trying to memorize material that isn’t even important for the exam.
Exemption for non-AP courses should be allowed for students in all grades and all semesters, not just second-semester seniors. While exams can occasionally help bring up a student’s grade, it is a rare occurrence. If a student has a very high A going into the exam, it is nearly impossible to prevent that grade from dropping, and it is disheartening for a grade that you worked for all semester to drop because of one test that counts for such a large portion of your grade. Like AP classes, there should be a minimum grade in order to exempt, because that average demonstrates the student’s understanding of the material. Also, teachers could try to make the exams a little bit easier in order to help raise students’ grades.
Even if exemptions for non-seniors and non-AP courses for both semesters don’t happen, non-seniors in a senior course should be allowed to exempt with seniors second semester. There were five juniors in Dr. K’s E period Calculus Honors class last year who were not allowed to exempt, despite having the minimum average required for seniors to exempt and despite being in a senior level course. Exemption would allow for students to keep the grades they worked all year for, and exemptions would mean fewer exams for teachers to grade.