Introduction: The Final Exam—A Celebration of Communication Skills

Marlene M. Preston, Ph. D.
Virginia Tech Department of Communication Studies

Communication Skills is a two-semester course in oral and written communication for freshmen. Students explore the demands of their new academic and professional discourse communities as they practice writing and speaking strategies to meet the needs of specific audiences.
The end of my Communication Skills course is a celebration for my freshmen! My students have worked hard during the semester. Rather than rehash the content of the course in an exam when some students are stressed and semi-coherent, I ask for the reflection paper and the impromptu speech. They've already passed lots of tests, delivered several speeches, and written numerous letters, memos and researched reports. They have also become part of a supportive community--a group of new friends who edited each other's papers, critiqued speeches, and coached each other through the creative process. They deserve a chance to celebrate their achievements and to wish each other well.

Because the course is a performance course, final assessment of each student's application of writing and speaking skills matches the course design. In many ways, I know much more about a student's progress in my course from this kind of activity than I would know from any essay exam. Students have practiced answering in-class essay exams during the semester, but such assessment doesn't reveal the attention to writing process they should have mastered during the class. The reflection essay allows them to demonstrate that mastery and enables them to explore their growth in other areas as well. After all, my freshmen have made remarkable changes from August to May; some of them have been in my class for that entire year. Their reflection on that growth is a useful tool for me and an important exploration for them. Similarly, the impromptu speech requires students to apply skills in interviewing, organization, and delivery. They not only acknowledge a partner's grown, but also demonstrate their own.

I now look forward to exam day. When I recall the grueling exams I used to feel obliged to give, I wish I could apologize to those students of years ago. They always ran out of time as they labored over tedious essay exams. Exhausted, they would slip out of the room, one at a time; no one had a chance to say good-bye. Certainly they memorized some facts for the test, but they didn't demonstrate the most important skills they learned, nor did they have the opportunity to celebrate their success. My students today leave with a positive sense that they have gained more than they ever predicted—personal insights, skills, confidence, and friendships.

|   Introduction   |   The Final Exam    |    Sample student essays   |  An outline of the courses' syllabi  |

Publication Information: Preston, Marlene M. (2000). Teaching Exchange: The Final Exam—A Celebration of Communication Skills. Academic.Writing.
Publication Date: March 26, 2000

Copyright © 2000 Marlene M. Preston. Used with Permission.