BERGER: Overworked, overstuffed

Final exams force students to adopt unhealthy and ultimately fruitless study habits

I cannot believe we live in a world where a final exam period still exists. Numerous studies have been published on the many problems associated with cramming, on the harms of isolating ourselves for extended periods of time and focusing on too many topics at once. Yet, institutions of higher-education continue to assess students with cumulative exams, the majority of which occur in the last two weeks of school.

Being tested on the subjects we are learning in school is absolutely reasonable and to some extent necessary. Periodic tests and quizzes, dispersed throughout the semester, effectively gauge our understanding of course concepts. Cumulative exams, however, are not necessary, especially when they are all administered within days of each other. It is nearly impossible to retain the amount of information that is expected by one’s professors without giving up some amount of sleep, social time and healthy eating habits.

If we cannot keep our bodies healthy, then our brains are likely to suffer, especially as we cram. Stanford University Ph.D. candidate Sukru Burc Eryilmaz writes that cramming “is ineffective and could even pose as a hazard to one’s health” because it “places too much stress onto the brain, pushing it beyond its limits…[which] increases feelings of anxiety, frustration, fatigue and even confusion. Like the human body, the brain needs time to breathe, relax and refocus. Cramming does the opposite of this.”

Eryilmaz goes on to say that mental blocks during an exam, “occur because of the ongoing stress the brain has been placed under. In a sense, cramming for exams has a higher risk of backfiring and potentially causing students to score lower; compared to if they had scheduled healthier periods of study time in advance of the test date.” These “healthier periods of study time” are not always possible at universities. Here at the University specifically, homework and other assignments are given in some courses until the last day of class. So while students are worried about exams, they are too busy trying to finish the semester strong with all their other work to begin studying early.

So what is the point of these exams? I understand that students tend to discard the information they study immediately after mid-semester exams and that finals are a way to make them restudy and relearn concepts they previously forgot. But cramming, as stated above, does not promote memory retention and students are just as likely to discard what they’ve studied immediately after the final. Even if a student does not discard information and absorbs every lecture, this process does not ensure finals will be a breeze, since often there are new concepts from the end of the course which students are tested on for the first time on the final exam.

If cumulative final exams are something universities simply cannot get rid of, then I propose changing the schedule and perhaps staggering the ends of classes and the final exams, so that students can dedicate a sufficient amount of time to each and not feel as if their minds are forced to focus on too many topics at once. If this is not possible, then classes that are more humanities-based and that do not require an exam-format final should switch to final papers in place of final exams — something that is becoming more prevalent. These papers would, ideally, be assigned weeks before the exam period so that students would have ample time to research and complete them before they dedicated time to studying for their exams.

There is nothing, as students, that we are doing wrong. The current format of finals is just incredibly ineffective and fundamentally illogical. Final exams test more knowledge than we ever have been tested on throughout the semester, and they all occur in the same week. This methodology is bad for our brains and our overall health and does not even properly gauge our intellectual capacity; a change is necessary.

Meredith Berger is an Opinion Columnist for The Cavalier Daily. She can be reached at

Published April 27, 2014 in Opinion

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