Midterm is two weeks away, and I’m caught in a conundrum.  My students have started to ask, “Are we having a mid-term?”  Normally, I have a mid-term, for a few of my classes.  But today I find myself deeply pondering this decision.  Why do I give my students mid-terms?

The truth is, I don’t need to.  They’ve already demonstrated their ability to meet the objectives with other assignments or projects.  I honestly find, for the most part,  exams aren’t conducive to demonstrating their knowledge or skills in many of the classes I teach.  Instead, it shows me how well they can memorize.

But here’s the catch.  Many of my students who go on to post-secondary education will need to know how to write a midterm.  They will need to know how to filter through half a semester’s information and pick out the key points to memorize and argue.  Furthermore, they will need to know what information is essential and what is superfluous and how to write everything within the allotted time.  And sometimes they will need to know how memorize and spew back.

Some might argue this isn’t my problem.  Instead, universities need to change their evaluation procedures.  True.  But what if they don’t by the time my students enter their classrooms?

To me, my job isn’t necessarily always about curriculum.  It’s about giving my students the skills they need to be successful in their lives.  And for some of them that’s learning how to write an exam.

I would love to get rid of exams, and have students solely demonstrate their knowledge through projects, portfolios and assignments.  Actually, I’d love to get rid of marks period and have them explore what they love.

I haven’t decided if I’m going to give an exam yet.  However, if I do,  I think I’ll change the format this year to one question, in which they will have to argue the literary merit of one of the works we have studied thus far in the semester.

What do you think?  I’d love to hear your opinions on this one.

photo courtesty of flickr cc: Matt Beckwith


About shelleywright

I love education & learning, which likely explains why I'm a teacher. My areas are ELA, Sr. sciences, and technology. My classroom is best described as a student-centred, tech embedded pbl/inquiry learning environment. Furthermore, I am Buck Institute for Education National Faculty member
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4 Responses to Midterms

  1. Nicole says:

    I just started teaching a college writing course this year, and I’m loving it. I didn’t assign a midterm, though one of my 4 essays was due around midterm time. From my experience as a university student (though in English and Communications) for the last 7 years, I can say that not every class, English or otherwise, assigns a midterm, if that’s your sole reason for preparing one. In my literature courses, many professors gave essays on a scheduled basis throughout the semester, but rarely gave a “midterm,” though we almost always had a final essay.

    I think asking your students to argue for the literary merit of one of the works you have read thus far is kind of silly. I hope you won’t take that too offensively. I think you will mostly find reader response essays, and once they hit college, the reader response essay is worthless. Plus, it ties into the very big, complicated, broad topic of Canon, and the question of what makes something Literature, which might be beyond the capacity of a high school student.

    Literary analysis is much more important, and good analysis is really the key to writing a good paper for any subject (lit, science, math, etc.). Though, I hate when teachers assign themes/motifs to write about, tell students to find two works that share the same themes/motifs, etc. You usually end up with a list of observations, but no “so whats;” the existence of those themes have no meaning other than being in the texts.

    What is it that you want your students to learn from writing a midterm essay? Don’t just have an assignment for assignment’s sake. Have it because you think they can gain something from it.

    Can’t wait to hear what you come up with!

  2. Alan Stange says:

    I agree with your stance on grading and testing. A reliable test reflects the learning outcomes mastered throughout the term or semester. For example, if you are writing expository essays on the test, then you have done them during the year. I came to wonder what the additional exam demonstrated. I suppose it is simply retention. We value retention of knowledge, yet know that for the vast majority of us application is the only way you retain anything. Use it or lose it.

    I also agree that there is a disproportionate weight given to post-secondary expectations. While universities and colleges might claim to be the cutting edge of research, they are hardly exemplars for teaching or assessment. They remain positively medieval. We can push against the inertia of public opinion on this but I am too old to be optimistic. They system will not easily change. Never-the-less we need to push.

    When you do design your new test. Try to incorporate differentiation and choice.

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  4. lewisv says:

    Your post comes at a critical time for us as educators in Saskatchewan. I think the shift towards outcomes-based education and all of the focus on formative and summative assessment is making us rethink our past practices. Traditionally, I think most of us would see a ‘summative’ assessment as being a ‘quiz’ or ‘final’
    exam. However, with outcomes-based education, it is easier to see a summative assessment being a snapshot of student learning at a point in time that can be captured in many different ways as long as the student can demonstrate his/her competency in attempting to meet the outcome.

    The more I am learning about formative and summative assessment, the more I think formative could become summative and summative could become formative as students work to demonstrate the achievement of an outcome. For example, it may be that a teacher plans a unit with some formative assessment activities with a planned final exam as a summative assessment the end of the unit of study. It may be, however, that as the teacher and students progress with the formative assessments, it is discovered students already have mastery of the outcome. As a result, I think that then the formative assessments could become summative on those outcomes and new outcomes could be addressed without the need to continue with the planned final. I also think the flip side could be true.

    The concept of assessment has been on the forefront of my mind lately so I am glad to see this post.

    Also, I appreciate your thoughts on helping students to develop study habits, test-taking, time-management, etc. skills as this is likely to be the reality they will face if planning on university as a post-secondary option. My best suggestion would be to find a ‘balance’. I prefer to continue to be optimistic about the possibility of change. 🙂

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