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How mid are midterms at Brandeis?

“Midterm,” as defined by Merriam-Webster, is “a: the middle of an academic term; b: an examination at midterm.” Brandeis midterms, in the time I have passed as an undergraduate student here, have never accurately subscribed to these definitions.

I am a senior at Brandeis, and having come in as a midyear, I have seen/am currently seeing seven semesters’ worth of Brandeis midterm seasons come and go. While this is generally one semester less than most of you who will come across this article, that extra semester isn’t needed to convince me that the way Brandeis midterms are structured (or rather, aren’t structured) is distressing. None of these midterm seasons, in my own experiences and that of my friends, have ever been the same. I am an English and Theater Arts double major as well, meaning I have had more projects and papers in my time than exams. However, having friends in STEM majors and classes, I know they also share my gripes about the Brandeis midterm season. From logistical reasons to personal ones, everyone has problems with midterms here, no matter what class year, major, or types of assignments.

Brandeis semesters, in my experience and to my best recollection, on average run at about 12 to 14 weeks, meaning that midterm papers, projects and exams should be due at six to seven weeks through the semester, if we are accounting for simple math. I may be a double humanities and creative arts major, but I can do that math. Everyone should be able to do that math. Fourteen divided by two should not equal three months of pain. However, I have heard friends, colleagues and fellow club members complain about midterms from week four of a given semester up until the last day of classes before a final exam period. Logically, this should not be happening. Yet time and time again, it does. It quite frankly baffles me to no end.

If we were to pose a question to describe this bafflement, namely, “Why can Brandeis not create and adhere to a midterms schedule?”, there may, hypothetically, be some rebuttal or backlash. If you were to argue that it’s impossible because each semester is different due to shifting of holidays and other scheduling, I would retort that this the case for a specific midterms schedule is even stronger. If there are people out there with the capability to schedule an effective semester incorporating breaks and holidays for several religious observances, is there not a way to cordon off two or three weeks of the semester as a designated period in which to assign midterm papers, exams and projects? If new schedules can be designed per semester, new schedules can be designed for midterms.

Another hypothetical concern against my movement to schedule midterms is that every class will have different needs, and that it would be unreasonable to expect a biology or chemistry lab to fit midterms in the same time frame as an anthropology or English class. And to that, I say, it should be perfectly reasonable. Every class gets that same number of weeks to teach the prescribed amount of material, whether it’s a STEM, humanities, social science or creative arts class. Therefore, every class should be getting, if not exactly halfway through their material, then at least to a good stopping point halfway through the semester to offer a cumulative review exam or project by the time midterms roll around. Additionally, a given class should NOT have multiple midterms! I have never had such a class, but have heard several complaints from friends about them existing. Why do they exist?

I’m also not asking all midterms to happen in the same three days. That would make no one happy. I’m proposing that a specific span of weeks, before and after the midway point of the semester, is sectioned off for big assignments to be due, so that we as a campus could have a small collective sigh of relief before finals hit us head-on. If professors and classes are truly concerned about having larger assignments that do not fit within the bounds of what would be a midterm, they could simply include that and note it on the class’s syllabus from the beginning of the semester. Simply do not call it a midterm.

We’re all just trying to get through college, and our professors, for the most part, are just trying to help us learn and come out of it alive. We all here at Brandeis juggle about 50,000 different things, including classes. We don’t need to be questioning the definition of a word like “midterm,” which some of us have been taking since middle school, if not earlier, amidst all our other activities and the physical and mental gymnastics we need to do to get through the day.

Now, after my tirade, you may be asking, “Abby, you graduate this May. Aren’t you a little late to be voicing your opinions on this?” And in proper Phineas and Ferb format, I would reply, “No, no, I am not.” If I respect any maxim, it’s “better late than never.” Also, I realize that there is time for change to be affected post-graduation. Brandeis will, shockingly, not cease to exist once I graduate, and I have hope for change for the rest of you and future generations to come. Stay strong, everyone, and good luck with midterms.

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