Effort vs. Memory

How Projects Took Over Finals Week


At the end of every semester, students face finals: a week of tests and projects that could make or break their grade. Often, this is a time of stress and seemingly endless studying. However, with the Upper School fully virtual for the first semester, students faced a different type of finals. Rather than tests, teachers assigned projects and presentations, with some canceling finals for their class altogether. For both students and teachers, this was an adjustment.

For Upper Schoolers already spending hours a day on Zoom, giving a test their undivided attention for two hours can be difficult. “I had one test and four projects,” sophomore Nariya Cooke said. “I loved having mostly projects.  My test took two hours, and by the time I got up, I had a bad headache and felt dizzy.” 

Unlike tests, working on a project can be spread out over time, often leading students to seek perfection and the elusive A. “I don’t think the teachers realized how much work they were giving,” freshman Hanna Bilgin said. “People think projects are easier, but they’re a lot more work. I like having tests and projects.”

Although projects add to the student’s workload, they are also free from surprises. Many students have experienced studying for a test only to find that it centers on another topic. “Having projects was much less restrictive and stressful,” Cooke said. “Most of my projects were open ended, I got to pick what I was doing and there wasn’t the worry of wondering what would be on the test.”

Projects also cut down on the possibilities of cheating. Although students utilized each other and the Internet to work, their projects were fundamentally their own. Academic integrity has been a problem throughout online learning. With the Internet at the fingertips of the test takers, and teachers unable to see the screens of the students, cheating is easier than it ever has been before. Upper School Mandarin teacher Min-I Lee used DigiExam for her final test.  

“It definitely stopped people from cheating,” Cooke said. “It locked your browser, and if there is a teacher watching where you’re looking it’s hard to cheat.” However, this wasn’t a perfect solution. DigiExam was difficult to set up and wasted valuable test taking time.  “I don’t think that tests can really work over Zoom,” Cooke said. “There’s so much that can go wrong.” 

“I think people may have cheated on the test we took,” Bilgin said. “But it’s hard to stop that. It really depends on the class.”

The entire math department of the Upper School agreed not to give their students year long final tests this year. While many students were happy with this decision, the projects that took the place of the tests were not easy.  “The math department wanted to acknowledge that students may not be able to perform at their optimal level of achievement due to the limitations of remote learning.” Upper School mathematics teacher Robert Wilson said. 

“I think that whether or not to test depends on the class,” Bilgin said. “English shouldn’t have a test that sounds weird, but Math should.”

Cooke and Bilgin had opposing views when it came to the balance of tests and projects. “For me, projects are a better way to show how much I’ve learned in a class.” Cooke said. “It’s focused on my effort and knowledge, not how fast I can go or how much I can remember off the top of my head.”

However, Bilgin felt that the projects lacked enough direction and clarity. “We’re freshmen — we’re new to this. Teachers didn’t seem like they were listening to us ask for help. One of my teachers did listen to our ideas and basically changed his whole final for us. That was really nice.” 

Some teachers canceled finals for their class altogether. ‘I didn’t have an English final,” Cooke said. “My teacher was prioritizing our mental health in a stressful time. For some classes, I don’t think a final is really effective.”

Looking towards the future, students wonder what finals will look like. “I like a diversity of tests and projects,” Bilgin said. “I hope that they keep it a mix instead of just tests.”

Cooke agreed. “I hope we continue to use projects in some classes. Some classes need tests, but some don’t. I think this finals week showed that projects can be more effective in some subjects.”