Sitting down to write this piece, I realize that my fingers can barely type because I’m so exhausted. I find myself completely demolished, mentally and physically, when the calendar hits December. After an entire semester of exams, papers and deadlines, I have to immediately throw myself into finals week. To make matters even more miserable, I have final exams to deal with. I spend weeks in preparation for a two-hour test in which I am supposed to encapsulate everything I’ve learned over the semester.
With final exams, you simply memorize a chunk of information to spit back onto a piece of paper without even really understanding the material. Do you know just enough to get a correct answer? Then you’re OK, you’re going to rock it… but after a few days, everything you crammed into your brain is gone, cast aside to make room for new information. The cramming from attempting to re-memorize months worth of material does not help students retain knowledge. I aced my exams last semester, but do you think I remember even one important date from the French Revolution?
In contrast, I remember all of my final projects from last semester. More importantly, I remember the major ideas of these classes because I used these ideas to support my final projects.
A final project allows you to take the time to work on something creative, which is also going to show how well you understood the material. Having to apply general ideas learned in the class toward a project helps us to retain the information and relate it back to something that matters to us. Instead of memorizing every single date from a war, we can make a final project that encapsulates effects of war, or a creative presentation piece on a war general. We still obviously need to be historically accurate, but we have the ability to choose a direction and an interesting way to display the knowledge we retained in the class.
As an English major, I can whip out a poem about anything. Genocide, 16th century battles, Bible verse? I’ve got a poem for that. I find that final projects allow me to bring my passions and my interests into a class that might not even be inside my major. I can relate these classes (that normally would bore me into oblivion) to a project I am more excited about doing, while still managing to show that I learned the important themes and arcs of the class.
Without the pressure of a two-hour time constraint, a final project allows for a release of imagination and a time to think, plan and process the information. I feel a freedom to use all of my resources, notes, and books to help me show my professor that yes, I was there for class, and I did learn something more than the name of a European poet. You learn to memorize, and eventually retain, the core ideas from the class, and molding those into a final project is infinitely more creative, mature, and ultimately useful then filling in bubbles on a multiple-choice exam.