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Current loose midterm scheduling unhelpful, stressful

By Zach Phil Schwartz

Section: Opinions

April 1, 2016

Brandeis sports an impressive academic reputation, with several renowned undergraduate and graduate programs alike. The university boasts an experienced faculty of high quality to educate its students, putting together a good formula for success. That formula, however, quickly becomes muddled with classes running on their own exam schedules. Nowadays, it is is common to see midterms scheduled from a few weeks after a semester starts until a few days before finals begin. In order to minimize stress and workloads and maximize that which is derived from classes, the range of midterms must be reined in.

Exams serve as ways for an instructor to gauge how instructed material is retained among students. At their best, they can accomplish this goal with relative ease, but only if they are given in moderation. Midterms are meant to be benchmarks within a semester to accomplish this very goal, but when they are left unregulated by a scheduling authority, the system goes haywire.

Even if midterms are given in moderation by the class, if classes schedule them without regard for others, students can end up with multiple exams on the same day or with an endless succession of exams by the week for what seems like the entire semester. This midterm dilemma came up in discussion recently, when a friend of mine explained how she had several exams, presentations and quizzes during one week and midterms every week following that until finals. This was, of course, on top of the other assignments she already had and the classes she had to attend. In a nutshell, loose scheduling is backlogging many students in work with no end in sight.

The complications of such developments include the consequences of unsatisfactory results and unneeded stress. It is not easy to do assignments for one class when two others have midterms on the very next day. An atmosphere of endless work with no relaxation in sight can emerge, especially if faced with an endless schedule of exams from a few weeks into the semester until finals. The stress is almost certain to pile up as much as the work does.

As the work piles up, it becomes all the more likely that due to the sheer lack of time, cramming and other similar quick study methods will occur. These methods completely defeat the purpose of exams; cramming does not adequately allow for the full understanding of class material in a way that proper studying does. The lack of time at the root of cramming is only exacerbated when instructors add on more work and wear students down with an endless bombardment of exams.

Jacob Edelman ’18, an editor at The Brandeis Hoot and representative-elect to the Undergraduate Curriculum Committee, explained that the current system of midterms is simply not functioning, as there is in reality no system at all. He cited a structural lack of communication between professors, which results in nobody knowing when their fellows are scheduling midterms. If any progress is to be made in this situation, structural change is required.

Change goes down to the definition of the word midterm itself; according to Edelman, there is no delineation between a midterm and any other assignment a faculty member may give. Look no further for a new definition than to the structure of finals.

There needs to be a more rigid regulation on how midterms and significant coursework is assigned, like with that of finals. The Office of the Registrar schedules finals and deals with conflicts that may arise so that students are able to deal with the period more easily. Midterms, on the other hand, despite the fact that they stand as a significant portion of a class grade, are subject to very little scheduling regulation.

In order to reduce the backlog, the seemingly endless stream of exams and the stress, there needs to be an authority that defines and controls midterms like the registrar does finals. Maybe then students will be able to drop the bad habits that defeat the purposes of exams and can find themselves in a much more relaxed environment where the word midterm does not bring on cries of agony.

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