So why do sudden death exams? Wouldn't some form of continuous assessment be fairer and better and more educationally productive?
I'm not sure. In our final year, we do have a dissertation option (10,000-word essay on a subject of your choice, cashing in for one of four papers) which many of our students now do. It's good, but I'm not sure I want more of it. The advantage of a sudden death exam is that it is SUDDEN. And it frees up the other two terms for experiment and for risk taking and for not always worrying that everything you do will somehow "count" towards your final degree. The best bit of teaching is when kids chance their arm in writing an essay, and they would be much less likely to do that if the spectre of assessment was always hanging over their heads.