It’s the finals countdown

Finals season is almost upon us, and, as usual, it is riding into town on a wave of stress, anxiety and hopelessness.

As with every other year, we ask ourselves why we even have finals at all.

Are finals actually beneficial? Or do they simply cause stress in students?

Danny Miller, an instructor of graphic communications and print technologies at SAIT, says that final exams are a necessity and they ultimately determine whether or not a student will be able to function in their industry.

“If [my students] don’t receive any exposure to these stressful scenarios, then they never get the opportunity to develop coping strategies to handle their anxiety.”

Miller, who puts a great deal of weight into his final exams, said he believes it’s his responsibility as an educator to give his students a “taste” of what it is like to work with a deadline.

“In my industry, working under pressure is one of the things that actually defines our work environment.”

All of which is fine, if you happen to work in the same industry as Miller.

To some, however, having a big test serve as a stand-in for industry pressure can seem heavy handed.

Final exams, which typically involve isolating a student from their work group or research materials for a lengthy period of time, can expose students to stressors that they might not normally face in the workplace.

Not all pressures are created equal after all, and each individual has different levels of tolerance for different kinds of stress. Considering the observable link between stress and decreased memory capacity, this should be something that is factored into how we assess student performance.

We can look past how an inappropriate application of stress might skew test results, though. Or rather, how tests, by their very nature, undermine their own intended goal: to assess a student’s performance.

We can look at how these unnecessary stressors affect the health and well-being of students.

In a 2011 survey of 1,600 students from the University of Alberta, it was found that more than half reported that they felt “overwhelming anxiety” or reported that they “felt things were hopeless,” at some point in the past 12 months.

Seven per cent said that they had seriously considered suicide.

Roughly one per cent said that they had attempted suicide.

Yet, whether we like it or not, it looks like finals are here to stay.

Nathan Poirier, a student in SAIT’s welding technician program, said that he finds exams unusually nerve-racking.

“I feel sick whenever I take a big test. That’s part of why I went into welding. I like working with my hands. There’s something about putting pencil to paper that does me in.” And that is not including external factors.

Poirier, who recently had a death in the family, will be facing more pressure this exam season than most of his classmates. “I really wish my exams were further away.”

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