Cumulative final exams offer debated pros, cons

Sean Ray | Asst. A&E Editor 

Finals week is quickly approaching, leaving students everywhere turning their eyes nervously toward their grades and checking how well they have to do to survive. However, not all finals are made equal. Students have long dreaded the words “cumulative final.” After all, now they not only have to study all the material from the middle of the year onwards, but also go back to those vaguely remembered first few chapters. However, could there be positive benefits to cumulative finals? Many students and teachers have weighed in their opinion of which kind of final they prefer, stating upsides and downsides to each.

Alexa Wilk, Brooke Wahlgren and Maggie Hyland, all freshmen at Rangos School of Nursing expressed their distastes for cumulative finals.

All three stated they preferred non-cumulative finals, listing negatives such as going over the same information and the higher amount of material that had to be studied. However, sophomore in the school of music Pat Spallinger expressed a different opinion.

“I prefer cumulative because everything in my major is cumulative. You know everything so well by the time of the final since you use the same stuff,” Spallinger said.

Most teachers seemed to agree with Spallinger. Dr. George Bradley, a professor in the department of mathematics and computer science, said he preferred cumulative on the grounds that in “most of our courses, students have to go on to another class, so it is good to review everything.”

Professor Jennie Schulze, a political science professor, agreed with the sentiment, stating “I prefer giving cumulative finals because my courses tend to be very theoretical and the theories we begin with tend to carry throughout the course.”

However, there was an odd man, or in this case, teacher out with Dr. Fatiha Benmokhtar, assistant professor of nuclear physics, who stated that she preferred giving non-cumulative exams. “The last chapters in my lecture require all the knowledge themselves, but I don’t want to tell students all the chapters are needed so they spend all their time studying introductory chapters.”

So, it would seem the student-teacher population is fairly split down the center, with students largely preferring non-cumulative and teachers preferring cumulative. Well, as a student myself, I’m going to play a bit of devil’s advocate and say there are actually benefits to both.

Non-cumulative has the obvious advantages. As said, it makes studying much simpler and forgoes going over the same material for a second time. However, in my experience, cumulative finals tend to actually be easier for a simple reason: more material means less in-depth questions.

Imagine if you are a teacher and making a final test. If you have a cumulative one, you would have so much material to cover with only so few questions. You likely wouldn’t get the chance to ask for very specific details and instead try to make sure students understand the broader strokes of what was taught.

Furthermore, as a student, cumulative finals are a valuable resource in letting one know how well they truly understood a subject. Do poorly on a physics final? Maybe you need to take another class of it to understand it more.

After all, we are attending Duquesne not to get a free and easy ride through college but to learn. And it is very important to know how well you actually have learned.

Ultimately, however, I believe the choice of non-cumulative or cumulative comes down to the course in and of itself. In some classes, things that are learned in the first pre-midterm might have nothing to do with what is learned post-midterm. Math tends to have this issue, where equations and figures that are valuable in the work at the start has nothing to do with what is being done later on.

However, with sciences and social sciences, theories and laws are something that one constantly uses throughout not just the current course but into other classes as well. Things I learned in my first year studying political science are still relevant now, for example. The same could be said for art classes such as music or graphic design, where techniques never become irrelevant.

What tends to be the issue with cumulative finals is when they are used inappropriately, when they are used with no real reason to do so. Cumulative finals do mean that more will have to be studied, and if they are used at the wrong time, it can unnecessarily stress out a student as they re-read text book after text book. If one believes this to be the case, it might be wise to ask a teacher why they made the final cumulative.

In any case, I wish everyone good luck on their finals, cumulative or otherwise. And make sure not to stay up too late.

What do you think? Leave us a comment!