Column | March 4

Midterms month

As spring break draws ever closer, many students on campus are increasingly filled with a sense of dread, an overbearing feeling of anxiety, for midterms week is fast approaching. Yet, for many students, midterms week is already here. And for others, midterms week won’t take place until after spring break.

Even though the Princeton academic calendar designates the week of March 10-14 as “midterms week,” many professors opt to give midterms the week before or the week following the break, rather than during midterms week itself.

Their rationale is perfectly legitimate — some professors want to break up a single midterm exam into two tests, one on either side of spring break, which serves to lessen the weight that a single midterm exam can have on a student’s overall final grade. According to economics professor Ulrich Mueller, who teaches ECO 202: Statistics and Data Analysis for Economics, “More exams average out randomness, giving me a better sense of students’ abilities. And I also think that some students underestimate the material, so the first midterm sometimes serves as a useful wake-up call.” For other professors, midterms week simply does not occur at a convenient time, and it simply makes more sense to break up the content of some classes in ways besides an even 50-50 split (half before midterms week, half after). However, delineating course matter into logical sections (for instance, 60-40) may not necessarily result in a class schedule that conforms to the dates established by midterms week. There are also midterm projects to consider — a project is significantly different from an exam in that it requires greater time outside of class to complete, and to make it due during midterms week would mean that it would have to be assigned much further in advance. Instead, classes with projects often assign such assignments right around midterms week and make them due within a week or so afterward, providing students with sufficient time to apply all the material they learned during the past six weeks to the project itself.

With all these considerations, the demarcation of a specific midterms week, though well-intentioned, is ultimately a poorly designed policy. For starters, in order to be maximally effective, every single class on campus would have to adhere to the same test-scheduling procedures, but instead, situations arise in which some classes host midterms during that week while others do not. In the end, the fact that many courses deviate from the pattern renders midterms week effectively meaningless. As it stands, the month of March might as well be labeled “midterms month.”

However, there is no way to verify how many classes actually administer tests during midterms week and how many don’t, because there is no codified calendar of midterm exam dates, which may be the start of the problem. Unlike with the finals week schedule (which the Office of the Registrar has already released for the spring 2014 semester), midterm exam dates are not universally compiled, and it is largely up to individual professors of each class to tell students when and where a midterm will be taking place. This would be a good place to begin in working to clear midterms week of some of its stress and uncertainty. The administration should encourage professors to notify the Registrar early in the semester when and where the midterm(s) for their courses will be held and then allow the Registrar’s office to provide this information to students equally early on, as is currently done with the final exams schedule. If it should be the case that enough exams are being given outside of the five days that comprise the official “midterms week,” then the school might want to consider doing away with “midterms week” altogether. Rather than designate a specific frame of five days for classes to hold exams, it would be preferable to instead allow each professor to decide a test schedule for his or her individual course, a schedule that is unique to the pace and the needs of that class’s specific curriculum. In all likelihood, many professors will continue to give midterm exams during the sixth week of the semester anyways. But for other classes, it will provide some freedom, liberating them from the perception that midterms must be given during midterms week.

Though it’s too late to change the policies governing this coming midterms week, gradual modifications will allow the process of midterm examinations to become much more straightforward and, hopefully, a less stressful experience.

Jason Choe is a freshman from Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif. He can be reached at jasonjc@princeton.edu.

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