To Test or Not to Test?

Photograph: David Davies/PA Arch

School exam stock

Henry Pollock

Managing Editor

2014 has started like 2013 ended—with a missed day of school. This year (much appreciated by the senior class) has been rife with skipped classes. Be it the annual day of service or this year’s 125th anniversary celebrations or extreme weather, it feels like every other week has included a day off. Most recently, we missed the day during which we were supposed to finish the first semester and receive our exams. To many, this has resulted in a lack of closure to the first part of the year. When I ran into Mr. Lombardo, my English teacher last semester, for the first time in 2014 this Tuesday, the interaction was like one of an alumnus revisiting the school rather than a current student.

A more pressing concern to some students, though, was the fact that they lost the opportunity to go over their exams in class and learn from their mistakes and successes. That is, the students that actually had traditional exams; there seem to be hardly any left. While I reflected on my penultimate exam experience in the wonderful warmth of my house, I came to a realization as to my opinion on how the last semester should have ended: with more substantial, cumulative examinations.

As we all know, there have been many changes to exam week at Latin in the last couple of years. The Student Academic Board, faculty, and Latin’s administration should be commended for their efforts in taking feedback from students and teachers and modifying exams as a result. Given the responses they had received, they worked hard in an attempt to alleviate students’ stress and create more time available for teaching. However, in doing this they have accidentally taken away from one of Latin’s distinguishing traits—its ability to prepare its students for the ‘real world.’

There is an old anecdote about the success of Latin students later in life. It goes something like this. A number of years ago, two students, one from Latin and one from a similar school further north on Clark Street attended the same university. Both were in the middle of their class academically during high school and became friends during college. All is going well for the both of them until the first set of midterms. It is at that time that, through a series of events, the Latin student ends up tutoring the Parker student, helping him prepare for the examination.

Regardless of how factual it is, this story attested to Latin’s exceptional ability to produce students ready for the rigors of college and beyond. It is undeniable that for the foreseeable future Latin graduates will need to be able to perform under pressure. A current college freshman, Latin grad Amy Balmuth attests that, in university, “They expect much more from you, and with fewer assignments [throughout the semester], exams matter much more.”  An anonymous Latin grad that is now a college sophomore recalls, “Finals at Latin taught me how to study, how to perform under pressure with five exams in one week. They taught me how to manage my time.”

Be it a cumulative exam in college, a GMAT test to apply to a graduate business school, a job interview, or anything in between, time and time again Latin graduates will take ‘tests’ in high-pressure situations. If Latin wants to continue its pattern of producing high-caliber students, it is imperative the school teaches them time-management skills and prepares them for the rigors of cumulative assessments. And what is one of the best ways to do so? Increasing the magnitude of finals at the end of each semester.

With this in mind, I hope you will ask yourself this question: “Is it worth it?” What is more important, reducing stress, anxiety, and (unfortunately) acne or learning a number of critical life lessons. I’d argue the latter.]]>