EducationPop Quiz

Pop Quiz: Cumulative knowledge?

Alright, I admit it.  I’m practically phoning this one in, but it’s finals week and I’m up to my ears in grading.

Plus I have to write two finals for today!

When I write exams, I try to get the students to use the larger concepts to solve specific problems.  I spend some class time demonstrating this and provide them with my learning objectives, so they KNOW which concepts I might use.  However, this is a large cognitive load, so I usually only cover a small section of the course and give more exams, like 4-5 a semester.

Some courses though require the students really know the material for the NEXT one they take.  For those, I give a cumulative final exam (usually a week after the last unit exam).  Some courses are not directly connected to other, later courses, so I never give a cumulative exam.

Here’s my question to you: what value do you see in cumulative exams, either as a teacher or as a student?

The Pop Quiz is a question posed to you, the Scholars of Doubt. Look for it on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays in the afternoon (ET).

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Apostrophobia is a college professor at a women's college in the US. She teaches biology, does pedagogical research on her guinea pigs (aka students), and has an existential fear of misplaced apostrophes.

1 Comment

  1. May 12, 2014 at 10:08 pm —

    In theory, cumulative exams incentivize student retention of content. Knowing that they will be responsible for the information beyond a unit test means they can’t just cram and purge. Unfortunately, this is rarely the effect they have. But at the least, this asks students to revisit the major concepts of an entire course at the end of the course, and investigate the interconnectedness of content. Personally, I enjoy the end of course review for AP chemistry, because we can talk about broad themes in a new light.

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