How Can I Assess Without Finals Week?

How Can I Assess Without Finals Week?

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Dear OTL,

What advice can you share about how to assess student learning without an official finals week? I mean, I am already stressed out because the Winter and Spring quarters combined have become a 21-week semester. And we’re still in the middle of a pandemic (gestures at America and the world). Please help!   


Frustrated without Finals Faculty

Dear Frustrated without Finals Faculty,  

Here at the OTL we’ve got your back, and for that matter, all of our DU professors’ backs! Here are a few tips to consider for assessment without finals week:  

  • Adjust Deadlines: If final exams are a tried-and-true method for you, consider how scheduling a final during week 10 of the quarter will impact your course design and how you will adjust deadlines to support your students and your own bandwidth.
  • Remember your North Star: Adapting to a term without a finals week may mean that you need to rethink the amount of content you can reasonably teach. How do you decide what to teach when you can’t teach it all? That is the question Dr. Virginia Pitts addresses in her blog about remembering your North Star. She encourages faculty to reflect upon what knowledge you hope will endure for your students, years after the course ends, to help decide what content is most meaningful to keep and what you can release.
  • Experiment with Creative Finals and Creative Grading: Instructional Designers Christine Hood and Jeff Schwartz recently hosted a Creative Final Assessment Workshop (access password C$d.Rn9b) to help faculty bring a fun twist to finals. For more strategies, check out Dr. Karen Swanson’s clever ideas for final exams and Christine Hood’s blog about creative grading approaches.
  • Explore Formative Assessments: Think of formative assessment as a push bike without pedals: push bikes allow budding cyclists to gain confidence and feel secure while learning how to achieve balance (Darby and Lang, 2020). Students can gain confidence while reflecting upon new content and engaging in low-stakes assignments to support movement toward learning outcomes. Here are some tips from our colleagues at POD:
  • Use Reflections and Letters: Instead of distributing a final exam at the end of the quarter, ask students to critically reflect upon the course learning outcomes with three takeaways: What did I learn? Why does it matter? How will I continue to apply this learning next quarter, next year, and five years from now? For additional ways to incorporate this strategy, check out this article and this interview. Another option is inviting students to write a letter to their successors about tips they want to share.
  • Remember that Less is More: This Inside Higher Ed blog lamented about the “more work” paradox during COVID-19, where both students and faculty are feeling terribly overwhelmed with exploding workloads that, too often, feel like busy work. Crystal Marie Fleming reminds us that we have the power to shape how students spend their time over the next few weeks. Let’s “exercise that power with passion” for our students (Fleming, 2021). And ourselves.  

As you can see, there are a variety of ways to approach assessment! If you would like more support, please schedule a 1:1 appointment with one of our wonderful Instructional Designers or contact me, Christina Paguyo, Director of Academic Assessment, at


Ash, S.L. & Clayton, P.H. (2004). The articulated learning: An approach to reflection and assessment. Innovative Higher Education, 29, 137-154.

Carl Wieman Science Education Initiative. (n.d.). Clickers/personal response systems. The University of British Columbia. Retrieved from

Darby, F. & Lang, J.M. (2020). Small teaching online: Applying learning science in online classes. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Eberly Center Teaching Excellence & Educational Innovation. (2021). Carnegie Mellon University. Retrieved from

Lambert, K. (2012). Tools for formative assessment. Retrieved from

Fleming, C. M. [@alwaystheself]. (2021, January 15). All professors should really take a moment to consider how we’re using our power in crafting syllabi during the panny-coup. Some of us have the power to shape how hundreds of people spend their time over the next months. We have a duty to exercise that power with compassion. Twitter.

O’Sullivan, S. (2019). Decolonizing the classroom: A conversation with Girish Daswani. Retrieved from

Sample Minute Papers. (n.d.). Retrieved from