Finals: A Celebration of Learning

By Sam Uzwack, Middle School Head

Final exam week is just around the corner. Hopefully, you’ve heard a little something about this by now, as we have been prepping the students for this week, well, all trimester! While for many, the very mention of the word “finals” can conjure sharp memories of blue books, number two pencils, and all-night cram sessions, finals at EPS (like so many aspects of our school) can look and feel quite different.

As a college preparatory school, we believe that managing and navigating multiple final assessments is an important experience to have before heading off to school. However, we also have to ask, what do final exams in a college preparatory school look like for fifth graders? Sixth? Sophomores? Seniors?

As such, we tune the experience according to each grade level’s developmental readiness. For example, fifth graders do not take exams on the entire term’s content, but rather, the final unit (save for math, which is always cumulative in nature). Upper class students, conversely, are expected to be able to show what they know from an entire trimester. Additionally, the relative weight of the exam increases as the student grows older.

Final exams also offer the opportunity for a number of different styles of summative assessment. Students may take essay tests, but they will also give presentations, conduct science lab practicals, participate in simulations, conduct Harkness discussions, write grant proposals, and so on. In keeping with Eastside Prep’s commitment to a broad array of learning styles, so too must our exams reflect a diversity of forms of thought and expression.

Also, in keeping with our commitment to learning diversity is a number of robust measures that are put in place for students to prep for finals. Study Guides are posted for all experiences, which include not only content, but give suggestions for how to study; the younger students fill out final exam schedules specific to their own course load; the schedule is altered to provide robust breaks in between each exam. All of this is to help students to do their very best as they conclude the trimester.

In my perfect world, we’d call Final exam week a “celebration of learning” week, as it is the culmination of a trimester spent pouring our hearts and souls into our teaching and learning. But I am not naïve enough to forget that this also can be a week that may stress some folks out. In that spirit, let’s help all of our students to do the best they can, while also reminding students that the process is just as important as the product. That’s not just college preparatory, it’s life preparatory.