The year ends with a final exam that focuses on the topics of the second semester: electromagnetic waves and the electromagnetic spectrum (NGSS Performance Expectations HS-PS4-1 and HS-PS4-3), graphical and algebraic approaches to objects in motion (Science & Engineering Practices #2: Developing and Using Models, #4: Analyzing and Interpreting Data, and #5: Using Mathematics and Computational Thinking), the application of Newtons' Laws to objects subjected to multiple forces (HS-PS2-1), and the conservation of energy (HS-PS2-1) and momentum (HS-PS2-2).
Over the course of the final two weeks, students have had access to a set of final exam preview questions. These questions represent my effort to be transparent with students; they are told that the exam is comprised of questions like those on the preview. Indeed, I promise students that, to create the exam, I select a smaller subset of questions from the preview set and change some of the values on those questions. In this way, I create an exam that has these features:
- consistent with the preview set, as promised
- short enough to be completed within 90 minutes
- distinct enough from the preview to discourage the memorization of answers.
In addition to the questions, students can access an electronic version of the final exam preview solutions. By providing a thorough set of solutions to the preview questions, students can self-assess their understanding. Students can affirm their correct approaches and can redirect themselves when their work goes astray. When a solution does not make sense, students present me with very targeted questions; typically, they draw my attention to a single line in a solution that, for whatever reason, troubles them. We have a very focused and efficient conversation.
Before distributing the physics final exam, I remind students that this paper-and-pencil exam comprises only one part of the final exam grade that is reported on their report card. I show this slide on the Smartboard:
This distribution is a reflection of my feelings about the exam itself: I want the final exam grade to be based on the important habits of scientists, captured by some of our recent investigations into acceleration and inclined planes, and not just on a student's mathematical ability. I hand out the exam and call their attention to the final pages which contain resources: equations, constants, and the electromagnetic spectrum, organized by frequency. Students spread out in the room to provide some integrity to the testing environment. They are allowed to use calculators.
Students begin their work. They may ask me questions during the exam, though I prepare them, in advance, that my response to certain questions will be "I can't help you on this - I'm trying to determine your level of understanding."