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Midterms poor test of knowledge

By Scott Strasser, November 6 2014 —

Every semester, anxious and stressed students are bogged down with heavily weighted exams.

Midterm season seems to either last for months or be over in one week. Some classes have multiple midterms, so by the time you finish the first round, it’s time to start cramming for the second.

Evaluation is a necessary part of university, but heavily weighted exams are a poor way to assess knowledge, as they encourage poor study habits. Many of us would benefit if classes had other methods of evaluation.

Midterms usually involve cramming and last-minute memorization. This is counter-productive. Every professor warns you to start studying early for the midterm.  But when you look at your calendar and see that it isn’t for a couple of weeks, it’s hard to prioritize studying instead of whatever early assignments you’re working on. In the end, the midterm sneaks up on you and you end up cramming.

Midterms usually account for 20 to 40 per cent of a student’s grade. The do-or-die nature of these exams is one of the biggest stress triggers for students. In the latest National College of Health Assessments survey, 58 per cent of students claimed to have experienced overwhelming anxiety in the last 12 months.

An alternative to midterms would be for classes to have weekly or bi-weekly quizzes. These would keep students studying regularly throughout the semester, rather than putting it off until the last minute. Quizzes aren’t weighted as heavily as midterms so they would also decrease stress.

Of course, it’s easier for professors to mark a midterm than quizzes. And I’m sure that if we had more consistent testing, students would still complain.

In the working world, you’ll be required to routinely apply knowledge. The best way to test if people really know what they’re talking about is to ask them about something constantly, not just twice a semester. Consistent testing mimics the skills we’ll need to use for the rest of our lives, not just the study skills we’ve learned for a four-year degree.

With the connections between mental-health issues and academics being studied in more depth, professors need to start exploring alternate options to traditional testing in their own classrooms. Midterms definitely aren’t the sole cause of stress and anxiety on campus, but there’s no harm in trying one of the possible solutions by spreading out students’ workload and making midterm season less stressful.

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