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Ultimate Final Exam

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"You all had a fun romp in the snow, yes? Good. Because now it is time to talk about the final exam. The exam is very simple. You walk from here to the South Pole. Five hundred miles, give or take. There is a catch - you get no food, no map, no clothing, nothing. You protect and sustain yourself with magic only!"
Professor Mayakovsky, The Magicians: Alice's Story

Both in fiction and in real life, education tends to save the best - and the worst - for last in the form of a final exam designed to put all the knowledge and skills a student has learned so far to the ultimate test. In this case, though, the challenge is a little bit more extreme than most.

Often (but not always) the conclusion to a Training from Hell or The Spartan Way, this particular final exam usually combines fear, adrenaline, mental strain, grievous bodily harm and maybe even the threat of death. It may involve a Death Course of some kind, or being pitted against another student in a battle to the death - or the teacher. Whatever the case, the initiate is pushed to the very limit of their capabilities in order to prove themselves worthy of graduating, and in many cases, only the very best of all the students will emerge victorious.

May overlap with Deadly Graduation if it requires the student to kill someone as well, Secret Test of Character if it's testing something more than just exam performance, and Initiation Ceremony if there's a more ritualistic aspect to it all. Rarely coincides with Final-Exam Boss, oddly enough.

A possible hallmark of the Sadist Teacher, the Cynical Mentor, the Trickster Mentor, the Sink or Swim Mentor, and the Drill Sergeant Nasty.

Contrast Incomprehensible Entrance Exam.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • Played with in Assassination Classroom. The students of class 3-E are forced to endure grueling training exercises for assassination and must study like their lives depend on it in order to complete exams that have already been rigged against them. However, the final exam is actually a relatively normal test, albeit with ridiculously hard questions. It is represented as an intense battle with the questions being grotesque monsters the students must fight with weapons such as pistols and machine guns. In reality, there is no actual danger involved, just extreme stress.
  • Saint Seiya features the Saints' Training from Hell being concluded with an immensely difficult final task in which they finally earn their Sacred Cloth; to put things in perspective, one of the failed examinees was asked to walk inside an active volcano and retrieve the Cloth from it.

    Comic Books 
  • Judge Dredd:
    • The ridiculously strict standards for being a Judge (years spent in combat training and learning the law) are necessary due to the Judges serving as Mega-City One's (pop. 800 million) police, emergency services, and army all in one. Every cadet's final exam is overseen by a senior Judge who can (and often does) fail them at any time. Dredd himself has passed only a few, adding a Secret Test of Character at the end.
    • The Hot-Dog Run is a group exercise in which several cadets are taken out into the Cursed Earth and demonstrate their resourcefulness. A cadet who fails is immediately ordered back to Mega-City One.
  • White Sand has an optional version in the Mastrell's Path, a grueling timed test of a Sand Master's powers in hostile conditions, ending with an Anti-Magic monster. The Weak, but Skilled Kenton insists on taking it and does better than perfect, earning a top rank normally reserved for vastly stronger Sand Masters. Under-Mastrell Elorin observes that the Path's only real purpose is to let Mastrells show off and feel superior.

    Fan Works 
  • The Discworld of A.A. Pessimal expands on the Final Run of the Assassins' School and adds new variations and twists; proving nothing really changes, candidate Jocasta Wiggs is forced to negotiate the city sewers as part of her Run and is given an extended swim in an even larger cesspit (she survives and graduates); whilst a proportion of students, those assessed as best placed to learn from the experience, are vectored through the grounds of Ramkin Manor (with the active consent of Sir Samuel Vimes, who wants to see how good his defences are against sustained multiple intrusion); and a new option is trialled, the Extended Year. This involves borderline students being abducted and dumped in faraway remote places around the Disc with the task of getting safely back to the Guild to report in, no later than a given date. Hazards here include jungles, deserts, fierce native tribes with a zero-tolerance policy to strangers, and being captured and sold into slavery of various sorts. It is possible students sent on the Extended Run have really annoyed somebody.
  • In the Batman Fanfic one day at a time (Nyame), Jason Todd designed three in the previous timeline, each tailored to the taker's level, and used to test what the Bat-Family felt were the most-needed skills to make a successful vigilante. One was for trainees seeking to become Robins, the second was for Robins seeking to 'leave the nest' and become solo crimefighters in their own right, and the last was for his potential successors as Batman. The last exam was actually the first one designed, for his younger brother Damian Wayne to complete as proof to the rest of the Bat-Family that he was ready to take up the mantle. Damian died in a completely unrelated incident before he could finish the last portion of the exam (defeating Jason in an all-out fight), but his younger biological half-brother and Jason's adoptive son, Terry McGinnis, managed to complete it two decades later, earning him the right to become the fourth Batman. Jason later created the other two exams based on this one at his sister Cassandra Cain's suggestion after taking in his first Robin, Terry's older adoptive sister Carrie Kelley, making them essentially watered-down versions of it. They (and the training used to complete them) were later used as templates for the Justice League's own training system, and it's implied that the Bat-Family intends to use them as their standard from now on, even after Jason's death.

  • Bruce Wayne experiences one of these in Batman Begins. As part of the final test of his worthiness to join the League of Shadows, he's dosed with a hallucinogenic compound derived from the blue flower he retrieved from the mountain, and then challenged to find Henri Ducard in a crowd of masked League members before Ducard can find him - the challenge being to resist the hallucinations and maintain discipline while simultaneously avoiding discovery. For good measure, it's wrapped up with a Deadly Graduation in which Bruce is encouraged to murder a criminal.
  • In Kingsman: The Secret Service, aspiring Kingsmen conclude their Training from Hell with a surprise variation on this: during a mission to seduce a target, the candidates are roofied and wake up Chained to a Railway with an interrogator offering to save them if they reveal everything they know about the Kingsmen. Regardless of what they say, the candidates are all saved at the last minute by a trap door, but anyone who blabbed is automatically expelled. For good measure, this is followed up with a Deadly Graduation in which the candidates have to shoot the dog they adopted at the start of the training. As it turns out, the gun is loaded with blanks.

  • In the Artemis Fowl series, Madame Ko's Personal Protection Academy has a curriculum of Training from Hell courses in skills such as armed and unarmed combat, hostage negotiation and cordon bleu cookery, all designed to turn its students into perfect bodyguards and servants to the world's elite, rich and famous. The final exam usually involves escorting one of the academy's teachers through a busy public area, but it is never as simple as it first seems, and Butler mentions that when one of his colleagues did the final exam in Calcutta, Madame Ko caused an elephant stampede just to see how the student would react.
  • In The Dark Tower, those aspiring to be Gunslingers must ultimately defeat Cort, their instructor, in single combat. The students can use any weapon, but it must be a non-firearm weapon. Plus, Cort really doesn't play nice.
  • The final test at Command School in Ender's Game features the eponymous character and his team being given a nearly-impossible simulation pitted against an enemy fleet and its home planet... with an extra-dangerous twist not revealed until the test is complete: it wasn't a simulation at all, but a real combat scenario - more specifically the final battle against the Buggers. Ender wins, but only by sacrificing the lives of everyone in the fleet and committing genocide, a fact he is not pleased with when the awful truth is finally revealed.
  • Professor Lupin has his pupils go through an obstacle course involving magical creatures for their final Defense against Dark Arts examination in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, the last creature being a Boggart. On the plus side, there's at least a teacher around to step in if things get out of hand.
  • I, Claudius: According to Claudius's researches into druidism, three out of five candidates don't survive the final test to become a druid.
  • The Magicians concludes the immensely-challenging fourth year at Brakebills by having the student magicians walk from Brakebills' southern campus to the South Pole - naked, with only their magic to protect them from the elements, point them in the right direction, and keep them from starving to death. And at the end, it turns out that only Quentin and Alice actually went through with it. The others refused the challenge with no adverse consequences, though it's indicated that only the participants of this test were able to truly earn Mayakovsky's hard-won respect.
  • In the Discworld novel Pyramids, the final exam for students of the Assassins' Guild requires them to cross an extremely dangerous obstacle course in the rooftops over Ankh-Morpork, risking fatal falls and loosened handholds every step of the way. At the end is a target that must be inhumed in order to pass the test. Pteppic tries to rebel against the Deadly Graduation phase by firing his crossbow at the wall, but ends up hitting the target anyway thanks to a ricochet. And it turns out Pteppic's victim was just a dummy; a classmate implies his was a failed student.
  • The Scholomance: The only way to leave the titular Wizarding School is to get past the horde of monsters that infest the Graduation Hall. Students work throughout their academic careers to develop the alliances and personal resources to survive the run, and a substantial fraction of them still die in the attempt.
  • In Tunnel in the Sky a bunch of high school kids are teleported to an unknown planet where they have to stay alive for a week for their final exam.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In the Farscape episode "The Flax," Aeryn mentions that screwing up on the last day of Prowler training will result in the simulator killing you, one of the many reasons why pilots are considered more impressive than any of the infantry divisions. For added horror, it's later revealed in "A Bug's Life" that Prowler training begins when the recruits are in their early teens, the lone exception being Aeryn - who had to wait until she was sixteen, by which time she was tall enough to reach the pedals.
  • In Slow Horses, River Cartwright's MI5 training concludes this way, with a hunt for a terrorist with a bomb in a major airport. The "bomber" is actually another agent and the bomb is fake, but the airport appears to be full of civilians and staff (although it's suggested that at least some are part of the script). It goes horribly wrong for River.
  • Played realistically in Veronica Mars, where Veronica's whole academic career culminates in one exam due to a tight competition for valedictorian. She walks out, losing her scholarship and chance to escape Neptune.
  • In Wizards of Waverly Place, the show is building up to the Russo siblings eventually taking a test to determine who will inherit their family's generation's magic as the Family Wizard while the others will lose their powers to the winning sibling. In The Movie, the urgent nature of the plot allows Jerry to start the test early so that either Alex or Justin can have enough power to undo the spell that caused the events of the movie. The movie has them face off against each other in trying to catch a target first, while the Series Finale (now including Max) has them undergo a series of trials, including answering questions and traversing through various puzzles.

    Tabletop Games 
  • In BattleTech, the Clans have all trainees (well, all trainees who made it to graduation) undergo a Trial of Position for warriorhood. This involves being given a Battlemech (or Battle Armor suit, or Aerospace fighter) loaded with live ammunition and being sent against three opponents who are experienced warriors and also packing live rounds (though due to Clan honour laws, they will only attack one at a time as long as the trainee focuses on one at a time as well). Defeat one and you're officially a warrior. Defeat two and you're automatically promoted to Star Commander. Manage to defeat all three and you're promoted straight to Star Captain and will likely be given assignment in a prestigious unit. Fail, and if you're still alive you're scrubbed out of the warrior caste and will likely spend the rest of your days as a technician or laborer.
  • Averted in GURPS Black Ops, where the Academy is the sort of Training from Hell where this sort of exam would be expected. Instead, after just another drill, the cadets are marched to the central square where every available operative is waiting to help them celebrate their graduation.

    Video Games 
  • Avencast: Rise of the Mage: The final trial to become a mage in the titular Wizarding School is a solo Dungeon Crawl through a monster infested cave to find a Power Crystal. Along the way, you find the remains of people who couldn't cut it.
  • For mage characters in Dragon Age: Origins, the game itself begins with one of these: in order to earn the rank of full-fledged mage, apprentices of the Circle are subjected to the Harrowing, a final test of their ability to resist the demons that are naturally drawn to them. Because the details are kept secret from apprentices, none of them know anything about the Harrowing and consequently have no way of preparing for it until they're judged ready for the final trial - whereupon they're abruptly dragged out of bed in the middle of the night and sent to the very top of the Circle tower for the test. Here, they are sent into the Fade and challenged to defeat a demon with only the power of their will. If they fail and end up getting possessed, the Templars overseeing the Harrowing will execute them on the spot. As it turns out, the real trick to this challenge isn't killing the Rage Demon that supposedly dominates that area of the Fade, but realizing that your only ally is actually a Pride Demon trying to trick you into letting him into your mind.
  • Final Fantasy VIII: The final exam Squall and his friends must take before graduating from Balamb Garden is participating in a skirmish to liberate a port town that has been annexed by the Galbadian army. Justified in that Balamb Garden is a Military Academy with a curriculum explicitly designed to turn orphans into Child Soldiers.
  • Freelancer lore says that Corsairs do this to their rookie pilots. New pilots are sent to the Malvada nebula in a shieldless ship and return with a stolen alien artifact. The lack of shields makes the Asteroid Thicket and radiation even more deadly, and only the best pilots are likely to escape the hostile aliens intact after nicking their stuff. You can find this nebula yourself and acquire a variety of Infinity +1 Sword-level guns by Grave Robbing the wrecks of fallen Corsair rookies.
  • Kingdom Hearts 3D [Dream Drop Distance]: Sora and Riku's Mark of Mastery exam involves defeating monstrous Dream Eaters and restoring several Sleeping Worlds, a daunting task even before Xehanort hijacks the exam, and much more complex and dangerous than the test previously shown in Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep.
  • Knights of the Old Republic
    • Your accelerated Jedi training ends in one of these. In order to prove that you're ready for the quest to find the Star Forge, you're sent out to remove the Dark Side taint from a grove just beyond the Dantooine Jedi enclave. As it turns out, the source of this corruption is Juhani, a Jedi apprentice fallen to the Dark Side; you have the choice to either redeem Juhani or kill her - either option gets the job done... though the latter means losing a valuable future team-member and inspires Juhani's lover to turn to the Dark Side as well.
    • During your brief stint as an apprentice at the Sith Academy, gaining enough prestige to graduate will result in you being sent on a final test of your worth: here, you have to enter the monster-infested tomb of Naga Sadow and retrieve a special lightsaber from the burial chamber - alone, with no party members accompanying you. This is fine with you, given that it's the only way to reach the next piece of the ancient star map you're after. The sting in the tail involves you getting caught up in the inevitable assassination attempt on the Headmaster, courtesy of his apprentice; you can side with the Headmaster, side with the apprentice, or neither of them - to the point that you can actually poison both of them in advance.
  • Mission three of Rebel Assault serves as this for Rookie One. Having dealt with canyon slaloming and target practice on Tatooine and navigating an asteroid field in space, you're then sent off to the planet Kolaador in an A-Wing to fly through an incredibly narrow series of passageways leading across a maze of razor-sharp geodes. As with the last test, quick reflexes are critical, but making the wrong move is even more dangerous this time, and you don't have the luxury of just shooting an obstacle. Once this is done, though, your training is complete and you're ready for the big leagues... just in time for a Star Destroyer to show up over Tatooine.
  • In Senran Kagura, the final exam at Hanzo National Academy involves defeating a hundred wooden puppets equipped with real weapons, all within a time limit and without sustaining injury of any kind. Failing the exam would close off the Path of the Shinobi for the student forever. This is only shown in Kiriya's flashback regarding his past student Rin, in which she would have failed the exam against one last sniper had Kiriya not stepped in to destroy the puppet so that she could pass.
  • A rather unusual variation appears in Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines. Having been illegally Embraced and only spared execution due to public outcry, you're given a number of jobs in Santa Monica to prove yourself worthy of a place in the Camarilla: once you've ended the feud between the Voerman sisters and tracked down Bertram Tung, the final task requires you to destroy a Sabbat warehouse - alone and with minimal resources apart from the bomb. For good measure, the whole thing is just a massive Uriah Gambit on the part of Prince Lacroix in order to spare him the hassle of killing you himself.

    Western Animation 
  • The Gravity Falls episode "Dipper vs Manliness" features one of these at the end of Dipper's manliness training at the hands of the Manotaurs: it involves hunting down and killing the Multibear. As it turns out, though he's no slouch in combat, the Multibear isn't actually a threat to anyone, and the Manotaurs only want him dead because they're offended by his taste in music. For this reason, Dipper refuses to kill him and abandons the training.
  • In Samurai Jack, the final exam of the the Daughters of Aku features the trainee assassins having to fight their tutors in duels to the death.
  • In The Simpsons episode "The Secret War of Lisa Simpson", Bart and Lisa are enrolled at Rommelwood Military School, and their final test before graduation is "The Eliminator", a 150-ft horizontal rope climb suspended over a field of thorn bushes. The Supreme Court eventually rules that getting students to complete it is a barbaric and malicious practice, and it gets scrapped shortly after Bart and Lisa graduate.
    Commandant: Meet the Eliminator. That's a 150-foot hand-over-hand crawl across a sixty-gauge hemp-jute line with a blister factor of twelve. The rope is suspended a full forty feet over a solid British acre of old-growth Connecticut Valley thorn bushes. Gentlemen, welcome to flavor country!

    Real Life 
  • In Ketchikan, Alaska, the final science test for the 8th grade is a two day survival trip in the wilderness.
  • The test one takes to earn their black belt in certain martial arts is ostensibly supposed to be this. How well it embodies this trope varies from school to school and is the subject of much controversy. Suffice to say it should be this for a black belt to actually be meaningful.
  • British SAS training, already one of the most demanding training regimens in the world, concludes with a week-long evasion exercise in which the recruits are dressed in movement-restricting greatcoats, dumped in the wilderness with minimal equipment and hunted down by a Special Forces Support Group. Those who are found and captured are subjected to thirty-six hours of interrogation; those who don't get captured are still subjected to the interrogation, because developing resistance to questioning is an essential part of this final exam.
  • Another conclusion to a real-life Training from Hell, the Spetsnaz final exam supposedly features this. According to various apocryphal accounts, it features the following: a ten-kilometer march across rough terrain while carrying twenty-seven kilograms of gear, being occasionally gassed, bombed or shot at; an obstacle course complete with tunnels and trenches to examine if a trainee can keep their weapon in firing condition; a test of the trainee's proficiency in various firearms; a live-fire exercise against a five-story building full of armed hostiles with civilians in the way; and finally a twelve-minute melee against four certified Spetsnaz veterans. All of this takes place in a single sitting, with no breaks, no assistance, and no mercy... and the training ground is supposedly an active war zone, so trainees also have to worry about the enemy trying to kill them for real at any point.