(from Faculty Focus). Examining the Benefits of Cumulative Tests and Finals. With the academic year nearly over and final exams upon us, it’s a good time to consider how we assess student knowledge in our courses. Cumulative finals are still used in many courses, but a significant number of faculty have backed away from them because they are so unpopular with students, who strongly voice their preferences for exams that include only questions on content covered in that unit or module. Although teachers should not ignore or discount student preferences across the board, there is the larger issue of which testing procedures best promote deep learning and lasting retention of course content. The evidence on the side of cumulative exams and finals is pretty much overwhelming, and those empirical results should not come as a surprise. An exam with questions on current and previous content encourages continued interaction with course material, and the more students deal with the content, the better the chances they will remember it. Students don’t like cumulative exams for the very reason they ought to be used: preparing for them requires more time and energy devoted to understanding and remembering course content.
Cumulative finals are better than unit tests, but cumulative exams across the course are the best option if the goal is long-term retention. Good and plentiful research documents that students taking cumulative exams during the course score significantly higher when given content exams after the course is over.