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A Reflection on Cumulative vs. Unit Exams

As we approach the end of the school year, many students are preparing for the dreaded final exam. Why is it that so many students struggle to feel prepared for an exam that covers everything they’ve learned over the course of the year? They obviously knew that material at some point, and in most cases showed proficiency on a given chapter test. So, what’s the issue? Why the disconnect? If they knew it then, why don’t they STILL know it now?

What if I told you that most math teachers are setting their students up for failure on the final exam? Many of us teach materials in units (or chapters) and design our tests around those same units. But does that really work?

We’ve all been there. The night before a chapter test, studying feverishly to understand enough material to pass the test. We cram as much as we can, take the test, and pray that it goes well! A little while later we receive our results, and we move on. New material, a new unit, new things to fill our brains. Then comes what I like to call “the flush.” We’ve crammed our brain with so much information the night before the test, that after accomplishing the necessary task, we now flush that information so that there’s room for the new skills. “No worries,” we think. “We can rest assured that we won’t see that ‘old stuff’ for a quite a while – at least until the final.” Are you smirking because you can relate?

Cram and flush does not encourage long-term retention. If we constantly assess our students in chunks, how can we expect them to suddenly become masters of large quantities of material? It simply doesn’t make sense. Yet so many teachers do this very thing. Why, you ask? Time. It takes a lot of time to continually build quality assessments that include the most recent material, but also a mix of old concepts. Teachers are only human and often must work with the materials available to them, and hey, chapter tests are available to them.

Here’s where we come in. Get More Math makes it simple to create cumulative assessments that cover not only the most recent concepts you’ve taught, but also a mixture of skills you’ve taught throughout the year. GMM will even provide you with class-level data in order to make informed decisions on what skills would be the most valuable to include. When students take consistent cumulative assessments with GMM, they are no longer part of the cram-flush epidemic. Instead, they are constantly mastering new skills while always cycling back through old skills to ensure long-term retention. When it comes time for a GMM student to take their final exam, it’s no sweat! They’ve been taking a “final exam” all year long!

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