Examining the effect of midterms in a college setting: Weighted first semester exams return after two years

Examining the effect of midterms in a college setting: Weighted first semester exams return after two years

Photo credit: Katie Madigan

By Katie Madigan and Christina Shea

After two years of exam-free first semesters due to the COVID-19 pandemic, midterm exams made a full comeback in 2023. While students in the 2021-2022 school year attempted their midterms, the exam had no penalty on their grades. Students and staff have prepared themselves for the exams by reviewing past assignments, discussion focus points in class, and memorizing terms and dates. 

While this extensive hiatus of the midterm exam may have caused stress and worry for some students, according to math teacher Eric Vanston, the exams better prepare students for college exams and also build student confidence. 

“While I do think [it was] more difficult for many students than it was before the pandemic,” Vanston said. “I also think it is valuable to get back to these exams as I feel they are an important way for us to help prepare students for the next endeavor.”  

Despite this, as a freshman at Northwestern University and Grosse Pointe North Class of 2022 alumni, Farrah Fasse believes that there are better ways for students to display their knowledge on specific topics. While she believes in the importance of taking structured exams to showcase cumulative knowledge, timed essay and paper writing skills have proven to be more beneficial in her college experience. 

“In college, all of my midterms or my finals, or my exams, in general, are not sit-down exams in class,” Fasse said. “A lot of them are take-home exams, or they are papers. So, having a full set of exams, at North which I usually didn’t have, wasn’t hugely helpful to me here.”

Acknowledging that higher education does not always utilize the sit-down exam method used at North, counselor Jennifer Sherman believes that the school’s exams prepare students to showcase their learning in a variety of ways and build the skills necessary to ensure success in college. 

“Students might not see a test after each unit but a larger scale exam that covers multiple topics or units that requires students to be able to know how to organize their knowledge and perform whether it is an exam, paper or larger project,” Sherman said. 

While Sherman stresses the importance of larger assessments,  junior Brady Beers believes that a balance of large and small exams can be beneficial as well.

“[Students could show their learning from the semester through] more projects or smaller tests,” Beers said. “Not just one big one and just their quarter grades will reflect how they worked in the first semester as well.”

Hayley Zalewski

Despite not having first-semester exams in over two years, Sherman believes students were well prepared for their midterms. She makes note of the numerous resources that were available to students at North to help alleviate stress and fears when approaching their exams.

“Creating review opportunities through study guides, practice quizzes and work sessions [and] giving instruction on what to

expect on the exam and sometimes even allowing students a tool to use during the exam are all examples of how North teachers [prepared] students,” Sherman said. 

As a teacher, Vanston aimed to assist his students in not only the learning aspect of midterms but also in maintaining their mental health throughout the process. By pushing for early preparation, he hoped that students would find the exam more manageable. 

“Teachers’ primary goal is to create an exam to assess student learning and we do our best to help students to manage the feelings and stresses that come along with the exams,” Vanston said.  “We talked about study strategies, made timelines to help lead to success, and discussed self-care during exams week.” 

While Beers finds midterms to be a reasonable way to measure students’ understanding of concepts, he believes they truly benefit students who pay attention throughout the entirety of the semester. In addition to working hard each day in class, Beers has found other strategies that allowed him to succeed. 

“The week of midterms and the week prior I try to get more sleep than usual,” Beers said. “I try to do a little bit of studying every day for the weeks and nights leading up to it.”

While preparation takes dedication and can bring students stress, Sherman views these exams as an opportunity to show learning and a culmination of hard work. Though Sherman understands they are challenging, she believes midterms do not always have to be a negative experience. 

“I believe that exams provide students with a powerful practice for future large-scale exams like the SAT, AP exams, college exams, and even those larger scale exams when applying to medical school or graduate school,” Sherman said.

Editor’s note: Klein mistakenly identified the senior class as the junior class. The senior class took regularly scheduled and graded midterms their freshman year, making them the only class that is currently at North to do so. Additionally, the “De-Stress and Hangout with Peer to Peer” event has been moved to Friday, Jan. 27 during both lunches due to the snow day.