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My professors usually give solutions for part term tests. But it seems that, they never gave any solutions for the past final exams in any courses I've taken.

Does anyone has the same experience? Or does anyone know why it's like this? I personally believe that students could use past exam's answers to prepare for their own exams.

Edited: Wow, it's amazing that so many people shared their opinion here. I'd just like to clarify my question here cuz I see my question mislead few people, my apologize. Say, I am taking some course this year, and the professor would usually post some pasts term tests with answers and the past exams from previous years(with no answers, or sometimes they just post a link to the library website, where answer-free version of past exams can be found) on the course web-page.

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    Even if they agree with you that distributing solutions would be educationally valuable (which not everyone would), professors have a finite amount of time, and creating solutions would take time that could potentially be spent on something more valuable. – Nate Eldredge Apr 22 at 5:39
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    I give answers and detailed comments on non-finals because I feel the students can learn from that. For the final, I'm happy to give detailed answers to any student who comes by my office after the final to pick up their exam, but I haven't had a student do that yet. (Or even email me to find out answers) Why take the time if no one is interested? – Kathy Apr 22 at 14:17
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This depends on the institution & department and potentially the instructor/course.

The last two institutions I have been at (UK) have provided solutions to past exams. One only odd numbered years, the other all years.

I'm sceptical about the value of providing solutions to past exams for studying purposes. From my experience the temptation to look at the solutions instead of struggling through the questions is often irresistible for students, especially those who are struggling. This leads to the false impression of knowing how to solve the problems. Of course past exam solutions can be used effectively to study, for example by only using the solutions to check answers after completing the entire exam as practice. But I have rarely seen students do this.

Developing appropriate exam questions is difficult so instructors may also want to recycle past questions and therefore not provide past exams (questions or answers).

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    By experience, I would say that looking at solutions can teach how to properly approach a problem and also how to solve any new instance of the same kind. – Patrick Trentin Apr 22 at 8:48
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    I've heard the problem of students being spoiled by the solutions mentioned quite a few times by my lecturers. One had an interesting approach: she did not hand out solutions, but offered to provide feedback on the students' solution if they hand it in neatly. I'm not sure how well that went, but it's an interesting approach that seems to solve the dilemma of giving students material they would use incorrectly, probably at the cost of some time for the lecturer (although I'm not sure how much time). – Discrete lizard Apr 22 at 8:55
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    @PatrickTrentin, Yes certainly, solutions can be used to study in this way. But exam questions/solutions are not intended for this purpose. Pedagogical examples in lectures/textbooks are. I've seen many students work on exam questions and when they get stuck they have a quick 'peek' at the solution to get them over the tricky part then move on. The problem is the learning happens in the struggling not the peeking at the solution. – mg4w Apr 22 at 8:59
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    @mg4w Throwing a child into water may teach him how to swim, or make him drown. Showing a child another person swimming first, can go a long way in keeping the toddler alive. That was my point, and that is also why I have always shared the solutions to the past exams when teaching a course. – Patrick Trentin Apr 22 at 9:06
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    But exam questions/solutions are not intended for this purpose. — More accurately, final exam questions/solutions are not intended for this purpose. At least in classes like mine, which have midterm exams and a cumulative final exam, the midterm exam solutions definitely are intended for that purpose, just as homework solutions are. (But then if you're used to writing pedagogically helpful solutions, why not write them for the final as well?) – JeffE Apr 22 at 9:19
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There is a very prosaic answer that somehow hasn't been mentioned yet. The partial exam happens during the term, when the professor is dedicating a lot of time to teaching and wants to help their current students learn. The final exam happens at the end of the term, when the professor is done teaching and typically wants to spend time on something else.

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    I think we all new what "final" meant in terms of "final exam"... – Solar Mike Apr 22 at 17:43
  • @SolarMike: Amusing anecdote: I have had community college students who actually did not know that. "Professor, what will we do after the final exam?" – Daniel R. Collins Apr 22 at 21:56
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    @DanielR.Collins I had a student express surprise the other day that they had a final exam at all - even though I made it clear at the start of the course (we are now over halfway..) - playing on the phone no doubt... – Solar Mike Apr 23 at 4:01
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It could be a lot of different factors. Trying to stop lawlerly debates. Reducing self study (it is competition). Re-use of questions. (This is not purely laziness or to restrict learning. I do agree that if you have learned all the expected questions you may have mastered the course. But in some cases questions may be reused for psychometric purposes, to compare instructors or classes. For instance the SATs reuse questions for this reason.)

Also, schools, courses will differ. So some may post the answers.

For what it is worth, I disagree with the idea to keep solutions secret for exams, homework, etc. If people can learn from drilling the materials, they should be allowed to. This is an area where things have actually become much more restrictive, less open than several decades ago when it was normal to post solutions after tests or have texts with answers to every single drill problem (not just the odds!) I have the discipline to decide how much effort to spend on problems before checking a solution (am a big boy).

In addition, I see tests as very high stakes practice but as a PART of the learning process. You learn preparing for the test, while doing the test, and afterwards reviewing it. So I think it makes little sense not to share the solutions. But obviously many academic gatekeepers disagree.

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    Looking at my desk copy of Introductory College Algebra, Rietz and Crathorne, 1923/1933: only answers to odd exercises are given. So that claim above seems shaky/evidence lacking. – Daniel R. Collins Apr 22 at 21:55
  • Why would an instructor seek to reduce self-study? And how does keeping test answers private do that? – Azor Ahai Apr 23 at 19:16
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In addition to some of the good reasons already given in other answers, here is another idea:

The instructor is trying to help current students improve in the course. Solutions to in-term tests can do this, especially if later course material builds on earlier, or if there is a cumulative final exam. However, the final exam is the end, and no further improvement in the course is possible.

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Most professors do not like to give out the solutions to exams (and the exams by themselves) because they do not want students to create collections of past exam questions. This is for two reasons:

  1. Some questions might be re-used later. This is not only laziness but there are usually a limited number of meaningful and unambiguous questions that can be asked.
  2. Professors want to stop students form just learning past questions by heart and they want students to focus on the actual content.
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    If there's a short least of reasonable questions, and students can answer them all, what's the issue? – paul garrett Apr 22 at 13:07
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    @paulgarrett: The issue is not that there's a short list of reasonable questions, the issue is that there's a short list of reasonable questions that can be solved in a few minutes during a one-hour exam. – Galendo Apr 22 at 15:52
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    @Galendo, "... solvable in a few minutes during a one-hour exam" would be part of "reasonable" in this context, I think. – paul garrett Apr 22 at 16:22
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    @paulgarrett it's also the fact that the goal technically is not to pass the exam, but to learn and apply the contents of the topic. This will not be achieved, when student simply memorize every answer, as many would(and that will hurt them later on, when understanding the topic is needed and not the specific answer to a specific question - it might be the same question, but you do not recognize it). – Chieron Apr 23 at 7:42
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They don ‘t give out those solutions as they use the questions in future exams.

If they handed out those solutions then that question bank is not longer useful.

Writing suitable questions to the correct level takes time.

They are well within their rights not to provide the solutions to those final exam questions. Those exam questions may not be officially available either.

They have provided practice questions with solutions for your benefit throughout the course.

Also, being able to solve questions without having a pre-prepared solution to refer to is a skill you need to develop.

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    There are student groups that collect questions and share/sells them. The obstruction is not really working. – kelalaka Apr 22 at 11:44
  • @kelalaka true, but for my final exam questions they have to rely on memory as they don’t have access to them, but they do have access to plenty of practise problems. And the students leave for holiday after the finals and when they come back they have forgotten the exact questions... – Solar Mike Apr 22 at 12:07
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    I remember that there were people waiting outside of the exam rooms to collect from the most fresh memories. And, some people are very good at remembering the questions. – kelalaka Apr 22 at 12:43
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I think this totally depends on the course or more importantly, the advisor. I've had courses where the final exams of previous years were discussed in the next years so that students learn from them.

As for why that can be the case, well, maybe the advisor intends to use similar questions and that's why they prefer not to reveal them (again, this comes from personal experience)

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