Writer vs. Writer: Exams or Essays for Finals?

by The Cowl Editor on May 2, 2019


Some students prefer writing essays on their own time as opposed to taking a scheduled final exam. Brianna Colletti ’21/The Cowl.



by Kelly Wheeler ’21

Asst. Opinion Editor


As finals week approaches, stress and panic loom in the air around campus. Finals can come in many different forms, but most professors assess their students’ absorption of knowledge throughout the semester by way of either final examinations or final papers. Although neither option is particularly desirable, there are many reasons why exams prevail as the more pleasant option of the two.

When you sit down to take a final exam, you must complete it within a two-hour time frame. You do not have distractions like cellphones, laptops, and talkative friends around you to compromise your concentration.

This forces you to focus and be productive, and once you finish working hard for those two hours, you are done. Courtney Salinsky ’20 said, “Even though exams are very stressful—especially the night before—once you take them, they’re over and you immediately feel a huge relief.”

Papers, on the other hand, can take an untold number of hours to complete. You are bound to waste several hours scrolling through your social media feeds when you get bored or worse, develop writer’s block. Once you finally get all your ideas on paper and meet the mandatory word count, you must then devote a considerable amount of time towards editing your work. The writing process can easily become prolonged, and as a result it can be an extremely painstaking experience.

Additionally, professors often grade final papers more rigorously than they do exams. Professors know that students are pressed for time when they are taking exams, so they are much more lenient when grading them. With papers, however, professors realize that students have access to endless resources and have  copious amounts of time to complete them. Therefore, professors have higher expectations for the final product, and they are more likely to deduct a disproportionate number of points for minor blemishes.

Every student has their own personal preference when it comes to finals. However, when you factor in the procrastination, distractions, and high expectations that come along with final papers, finals week is considerably less excruciating when professors stick to giving final exams.



by Marie Sweeney ’20

Opinion Staff


Papers and exams are very familiar and frequent assignments to the average college student, especially in the midst of finals week. Although everyone has their differing opinions and preferences in terms of assessment, writing a paper is more enjoyable and beneficial to a student and is a better assessment of critical thinking and overall learning than taking an exam.

Not only are you able to use a wide variety of resources when writing an essay, such as books, the internet, and more, but essays also allow for more creativity and critical thinking. There are no strict right answers when it comes to writing an essay, especially because you have the ability to support your points with evidence.

On the other hand, exams are much more concrete and specific. Most of the time, especially for multiple-choice questions, there is strictly one right answer that can cost you a substantial amount of points if you fail to choose it. In an essay, you have much more room for error. Furthermore, essays grant students more time to develop their ideas, whereas exams require a time limit that can be difficult for some students who need more time to develop their thoughts. 

Another benefit of an essay is the ability to read over your work and even have others edit it for you. Sometimes professors will offer the option of allowing students to ask questions regarding the prompt and in some cases, they will offer to check over your paper before it is due to give you feedback on your draft.

Caroline Mallon ’20 stated, “I prefer papers because they give you more room to show how much you know about the subject and to back yourself up, which is usually impossible in most exam formats.”

Although every student is different and some may strongly prefer taking an exam over an essay, there are countless reasons why essays are a much better form of assessment of students’ learning that more professors should consider.