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Editorial: improve midterms week

Monday begins the notoriously stressful week of midterms. Whereas for final exams the University provides a reading period and a designated exam period, midterms week is hardly set apart from any other week of the semester, and the exams taken often carry significant weight in course grading. Midterms are often treated like other assignments that students should be expected to juggle; in some cases, students have had 150-minute exams on weeknights, in addition to class and precept. Meanwhile, since there is no special reading period or exam week, extracurricular activities still go on; athletes will have regular practice, clubs and student organizations may hold important meetings, campus events will happen, and libraries will operate at normal hours.

In keeping with the sensible restrictions and recommendations surrounding acceptable workloads during finals week, the Editorial Board recommends that University academic departments adopt a consistent and fair set of norms. Such a system would include making weekly assignments either optional or ungraded during midterms week. This would resolve the frustration of picking between studying for exams and regular coursework that often has no specific bearing on the exam itself. For example, a student in the current system might have to submit a weekly problem set on a topic not covered on the midterm. Other classes require weekly blog posts during midterms week, and while these posts may have their merits, they are an unnecessary burden during midterms.

Such additional assignments force students to make decisions about how to divide their time within a single class, adding to the stress of finding strategies to divide time between other classes, activities and sleep. This plan would encourage professors and preceptors to assign homework that is directly relevant to students, who shouldn’t feel the pressure to complete an assignment during midterms week that would only detract from their time spent in preparation for the exam itself. While not requiring additional work from teaching staff or professors, this would ensure adequate preparation, sleep and, ultimately, student well-being.

Another academic practice that is not implemented consistently across University departments, thus adding unnecessary stress and confusion to students’ lives, is the practice of making previous years’ exams and solutions available on Blackboard. Making such a practice the norm, at least in introductory courses, would give students an idea of what to expect on their exams, avoiding the frustration of spending hours studying material that would end up not being remotely helpful. In the case of humanities courses, a helpful technique that some HUM sections have adopted is giving students access to sample ‘A’ papers. Access to such information on a consistent basis across classes, including freshman writing seminars, would require small up-front time investments from teaching staff in return for smoother and more positive midterm experiences for hundreds of students. For incoming freshmen, coming from varied academic backgrounds, such resources are inestimably helpful and reassuring.

Lastly, a formal system for rearranging midterms should be put in place, to allow students with more than two exams on one day to reschedule. Because the nature of our class schedule (with classes usually being held Monday/Wednesday/Friday or Tuesday/Thursday) makes multiple midterms on one day quite likely, the possibility of three exams on one day is both real and unreasonable.

Academic departments and professors who already follow such practices do a great service to their students. By codifying such practices and establishing a set of norms and recommendations, the University can maximize student benefit from midterms week while minimizing inconsistency and frustration.

The Editorial Board is an independent body and decides its opinions separately from the regular staff and editors of The Daily Princetonian. The Board answers only to its Chair, the Opinion Editor and the Editor-In-Chief.