Editorial: Reform midterms to promote fairness and maintain fall break| Nov 9, 2014
Midterms week is an inherently stressful time when students are required to study for comprehensive tests, learn new material in class and complete papers and problem sets. At the conclusion of midterms week, students are given a week-long break to relax, recuperate and pursue out-of-classroom experiences that supplement their time at Princeton. Unfortunately, the lack of University policies surrounding the administration of take-home exams detracts from the fairness of the examination process and adds stress to the week. Further, the lack of University policies regulating work assigned during fall break dilutes the break’s purpose and is unfair to students attempting to pursue extracurricular, academic and personal opportunities.
For students in any given course, schedules during midterms week vary. While one student may have only the take-home exam assigned by the given course due during the week, others may have to study for in-class exams, complete problem sets, draft midterm papers, prepare for precept presentations or any combination thereof. Many take-home midterms, however, do not have a set time limit. This imbalance creates an unfair situation for students who, because of scheduling constraints, do not have as much time to devote to a take-home exam as others. In light of this imbalance, the Editorial Board recommends requiring professors to specify a reasonable amount of time that can be used to complete a take-home exam over the course of an assigned period. Assigning a take-home exam that could be completed in six hours over the course of five days, for example, would standardize the amount of time students could spend on an exam while allowing the flexibility to work around busy schedules. By requiring professors to assign a limited amount of time to complete a take-home midterm, like many already do, students will not be disadvantaged by their choice of course load or break plans.
Further, University policy surrounding assigned work during the break following midterms week could also be improved. Originally intended to allow students to participate in national campaigns in the 1970s, Princeton’s fall break lasts the week after midterm periods and allows students to participate in pre-election day campaigning. Though contemporary students are more likely to spend the week on class trips, Breakout trips, completing research for independent work or visiting friends and family, fall break is a critically important time for learning outside the classroom or simply taking a break from the daily stresses of life at Princeton University. Policy, however, does not disallow professors from making midterm papers, take-home exams or other course assignments due during fall break or on the first day of classes following students return. This detracts from the impact of activities undertaken during break and dilutes the full benefits the break is intended to provide.
In order to strengthen the benefits of fall break, the Board calls on the University to ban assigning due dates for academic work during fall break and discourage professors from assigning work due on the first meeting of classes after the break’s conclusion. Work assigned so close to the conclusion of fall break implies that the work be completed over break. Such a policy would allow students to focus on the activities they choose to pursue over break. As these activities are worthwhile tools of learning — both as learning experiences outside of the classroom and as respites that allow students to work with renewed vigor upon their return — such a policy would inherently benefit the educational process. By returning academic breaks to their true purposes and addressing inequities in take-home midterms, the University would markedly improve the quality of learning at Princeton each fall.
Zach Horton abstains.
TheEditorial Boardis an independent body and decides its opinionsseparately from the regular staff and editors of the ‘Prince.’ The board answers only to its Chair, the Opinion Editor and the Editor-in-Chief.