The familiar final exam survives as a fundamental component of most college courses, but usually proves frustrating and disappointing to both student and instructor. The culmination of the undergraduate teaching and learning experience, the completed exam usually exhibits a rapid display of facts and figures gleaned from countless lectures and months of readings. It rarely reflects thoughtful, mature analysis or the application of the substantive knowledge acquired during the course to particular problems or themes. A strong factual knowledge of course material hardly prepares the student for such a task. Even if the final challenges the student to exercise rudimentary analytical skills, the end product tends to suffer from time constraints as the task of writing generally outweighs that of organizing and pursuing thoughts.
Instructors normally entertain certain objectives in elaborating a course which may or may not be incorporated into the syllabus. These demarcate the scope of material to be covered and the theoretical and analytical abilities to be mastered by the student; but rarely are these incorporated or represented in the content of the final exam. Usually, these pedagogical goals are more comprehensive and rigorous than what is actually tested or graded on the final given its traditionally limited and constrained format. Consequently, the final's impact on the student's grade tends to surpass its role in shaping the learning experience; the course suffers from treating the final as solely an evaluative instrument rather than a learning device.
Just as central research questions and an elaborate strategy guide sophisticated scholarly research, issuing the final exam questions at the course's outset can help focus and steer the learning process and more appropriately correspond to course objectives. A number of advantages result from issuing the final exam up front.