Alternatives to the Traditional Final Exam No Matter What You Teach

Mix and Match, Elaborate, Redesign, Steal…. Here are a few ways to change the style of your final so that it more accurately reflects what your students know.  Student choice is a POWERFUL motivator so consider a choice board with several options from which they choose their own exam.

1. Mixed media: Choose a novel, film, song, or article that students studied in your class and allow them to create a written (or oral) product that connects it to another type of media.  Sample products: An article, a speech, a letter, a blog post, a short story, an essay.   Example: After studying the gang Mara Salvatrucha 13, my students had read a novel, seen a film, and read an article about relationships torn apart by the gang’s violence.  From a choice board, they created a written (or oral) product that connected the article, film, and novel.

2. Infographic: Take a look at some infographics online!  They are such a great visual representation of material students have learned.  Much more dynamic than an essay, and infographic allows students to share what they know in a 21st century manner.  If you have limited access to technology like I do, here is a link to how I solved the problem!

3. Symbolism: Allow students the freedom to connect what you’ve studied in class with films they are familiar with.  They can identify a theme common to the topic and express it creatively to the class.  Example: In Spanish 3 we studied the idea of identity.  We looked at the mural Gulliver by Hector Duarte, the mural on the cover of the novel La Calaca Alegre (a representation of Carlos’s life), and we made a practice mural based on the life of the main character in the film A Better Life.  When students had some experience finding symbolism in murals, they created a mural that represented their own life and presented it to the class.  You can compare multiple films, films and art, literature, etc.

4. Historical Exploration: Re-enactments, Infographic style time lines, creative writing… How can you make history more alive than a multiple choice answer on a test paper?  How about a trial of a historical figure, a creative writing in which students change ONE event in history and predict how the effect might have rippled across the decades, an interview with a historical figure.  Written or oral, any of these projects are applicable to language class or across the curriculum.

5. Real Life Application: Allow students freedom to select some theme of your course and research how they could apply it to their future job.  Present them with a choice board: an article for the newspaper, a magazine spread, a job-seeker pamphlet, a poster, a prezi, etc.  This is a powerful way to end the course because when students connect your subject area to their career, it has real meaning to them. 

6. Passion based (Carol Gaab’s term) project: Every one of us has a passion.  Encourage them to find a way to connect their passions to your course.  They can write an essay, a letter, a diary entry, a how-to manual, or a speech about how you could incorporate what they are passionate about in your classroom.  Example: A videogamer might advocate for use of gamification in your class.  A reader might advocate more free-reading time.  A dancer/tumbler/athlete might highlight the need for physical movement in the classroom. 

7. Dig deeper:  Encourage students to choose the theme that interested them the most and dig a little deeper.  We don’t have enough time in the year to do every topic justice… They can choose their favorites and really find out more!  You can give a choice board: podcast, blog, prezi, video, interview, public service announcement, etc. so that students are able to choose HOW they will share what they have learned.

8. Interest circles: A group project but with individual reports at the end, an interest circle allows students who enjoy music to work with other music lovers to find songs that connect with your subject matter.  Readers grouped with other readers find books that are connected historically or culturally with your subject matter.  Movie buffs, athletes, artists… You name it, your kids have cool interests that they can cultivate together.  Have them research as a group and then design and present their final product as individuals.

Whatever type of final assessment you choose, it has to reflect the learning that has happened in your classroom.  Ask yourself the Understanding by Design (Wiggins and McTighe) question, what are the enduring understandings that I want my students to have???  If you start from that point, you’ll be able to create a meaningful final that truly shows what your students know, not what they memorized the night before.  It requires a LOT of bravery to leave the traditional exam behind but at the college level they just don’t see comprehensive finals any more.  Leave the bubble sheets behind and lets start an exam revolution!

Author: senoracmt

I began teaching Spanish in Illinois in 1994. I have taught levels 1-4 in a small rural high school, 8th grade introductory Spanish, Biology 1, and 101 and 102 at the community college level. My Spanish classes are partnered with the community college to offer students 8 semester hours of dual credit on completion of Spanish 4. In 2011 I met Carol Gaab and Kristy Placido and have since co-authored the book "La hija del sastre" with Carol Gaab and authored the novels "La Calaca Alegre", "Bianca Nieves y los 7 toritos." "Vector," "48 horas" and "Bananas" through Fluency Matters. In 2006 I became National Board certified and I have been serving as a mentor both for candidates seeking certification in world languages other than English and a virtual mentor for candidates in all certificate areas. I completed my Masters degree in Spanish education in 2011 and did my research on the use of Understanding by Design to create meaningful cultural units for the language classroom. I am a frequent presenter on this topic, please consider me if you are interested in a workshop on backward design. In 2013 I was named the ICTFL Foreign Language teacher of the year and in 2014 I was selected as CSCTFL's teacher of the year. In November of 2014 I was lucky enough to be one of the five finalists for the ACTFL National Teacher of the Year in San Antonio, TX. What a "Cinderella" experience! You can reach me via email at senoracmt at

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