December 13, 2017

OPINION: Should we reinstate schoolwide midterms?

It’s a curious phenomenon: a certain week every year, it is universally guaranteed that you will find students in libraries and classrooms with their heads in their hands, staring at textbooks and a year’s worth of notes in a number of subjects. This week is known as the dreaded finals week, and is the bane of any student’s academic existence.

Would it be wise to add to student anxiety levels by assigning not only a week of finals, but also a week of midterms as well, keeping in mind that both the preparation and execution for midterms break the flow of the schedules of individual students and the school as a whole?

The truth is, midterms actually detract from student productivity and focus. Student Congress President Emmett Ulian ’15 says he’s “ personally opposed to midterms, for a couple of different reasons, including the fact that it sometimes encourages students to break up the year so they don’t retain or worry about first semester material after the midterm, as well as the fact that it is a superfluous exam in light of the intended comprehensiveness of finals.”

Mr. William Horne, an honors Algebra II teacher, points out the time lost by reviewing for midterms. “Generally, the Math department doesn’t like to give midterms because the time it takes to review materials and take the test can take a up a whole week, and in a week we can teach a lot,” said Horne. “It’s not worth wasting a week on [reviewing for midterms].”

At a more emotional level, midterms mean unnecessary worry for students. Listening to the clock tick as two hours dictate the outcome of your precariously balanced grade point average is probably one of the most stressful feelings ever.

In fact, students become so stressed during midterms and finals weeks that they have sparked a satirical conundrum known as the “Dead Grandmother Problem”.

Stacey Patton describes the problem on Chronicle Vitae. “… Grandmothers are 10 times more likely to die before a midterm, and 19 times more likely to die before a final exam. Grannies of students who weren’t doing well in their classes were at even higher risk of meeting their maker: Students who were failing a class were 50 times as likely as others to lose a grandmother.”

At Wellesley, nearly every core subject has a required final exam or independent research project. Many electives, especially language classes, also have them.

Midterms, however, are much scarcer. The only official midterm exams currently at the school are for Biology and Chemistry courses, at the Honors, ACP, and CP levels, after former WHS Principal Rena Mirkin discontinued mandatory midterms due to disruption to schedules.

Approved by former WHS Principal Andrew Keough, the science midterm was a result of a poll taken by science teachers asking if students would rather have two assessments worth 8% each, or one assessment worth 16%. The majority of science students chose the former.

The science exams are better described as a “Semester 1 Final” and “Semester 2 Final”, explained Ms. Louisa Morrison, currently a chemistry teacher at the high school. In these tests, most material covered on the first exam is not included in the second, although many topics build off of each other, and therefore tie into a larger theme. Teachers pick one cycle to give the tests, and students have the two hours provided by double-block lab periods to take them.

Morrison described the effect of the test on students. “It’s like a second chance for students if they don’t do well on one of them. Kids seem to like getting some of the material out of their way,” said Morrison. “It works.”

However, although midterms appear to work well for science classes, Morrison added that this may not be the case with other subjects. “The students seem to enjoy [the science midterm], but maybe not if other classes all had midterms too. I think that might be too much to handle all at once,” said Morrison.

These exams do not seem to be adding to stress levels, and since they can be fitted into the double-block lab period, they also do not interfere with schedules.

Nevertheless, science is currently the only subject with double-block privileges, which makes the exams simple to schedule. To make midterms in other subjects similarly effective, the schedules of the entire student body would need to be rearranged to accommodate for a double-block of each core class. This is much too complicated and tedious to arrange, and involves the major issues of either lengthening the school day or making another “Finals Week” schedule. Therefore, midterms for other subjects seem to be impossible to smoothly incorporate into student schedules as of now.

At the moment, though, there is still no school policy on midterms, and Ulian does not anticipate one. So, it looks like we’re safe for now.

(Christie Yu ’18, Staff Writer)

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