On the one hand, we tell students to value learning for learning's sake; on the other, we tell students they'd better know this or that, or they'd better take notes, or they'd better read the book, because it will be on the next exam; if they don't do these things, they will pay a price in academic failure. This communicates to students that the process of intellectual inquiry, academic exploration, and acquiring knowledge is a purely instrumental activity—designed to ensure success on the next assessment.
Given all this, it is hardly surprising that students constantly ask us if this or that will be on the exam, or whether they really need to know this reading for the next test, or—the single most pressing question at every first class meeting of the term—"is the final cumulative"?
This dysfunctional system reaches its zenith with the cumulative "final" exam. We even go so far as to commemorate this sacred academic ritual by setting aside a specially designated "exam week" at the end of each term. This collective exercise in sadism encourages students to cram everything that they think they need to "know" (temporarily for the exam) into their brains, deprive themselves of sleep and leisure activities, complete (or more likely finally start) term papers, and memorize mounds of information. While this traditional exercise might prepare students for the inevitable bouts of unpleasantness they will face as working adults, its value as a learning process is dubious."
via Marshall Memo