A Modest Proposal to Modify Midterms

Claire Mendelson, Editor-in-Chief

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Two years ago, something completely unprecedented, unexpected, and miraculous occurred: administration cancelled midterm exams. This year, after historic winter storm Jonas blanketed the Richmond metro area in over a foot of snow, students took matters into their own hands. Dr. McGee received over 500 emails from concerned students and parents, and a petition to cancel Maggie Walker’s midterms garnered over 800 signatures. Ultimately, students’ efforts were rewarded; on the first day back at school after the four snow days, administration announced that exams would be “teacher optional.”

The flaws of our current midterm system are highlighted by the fact that a few snow days and an enthusiastic email campaign can cancel what is arguably the most important assessment of the semester. A reform to this system has the potential to make the process easier and more stress-free for students, teachers, and administrators alike.

Over a foot of snow fell in the Richmond metro area, leading to four snow days and cancelled midterms.

Photo courtesy of Morgan Thweatt
Over a foot of snow fell in the Richmond metro area, leading to four snow days and cancelled midterms.

Firstly, midterms should be moved to the week before winter break. Maggie Walker can follow the example of Chesterfield County and numerous private schools in the area, all of whom administer midterm exams in December. While the weather is unpredictable from year to year, Richmond rarely receives significant snowfall in December. Without the possibility of cancelled midterms, students could focus more on studying rather than thoroughly analyzing the weather report and calculating the probability of a snow day, as they were apt to do this year given the uncertainty of having exams. Additionally, having midterms before break would give students a few weeks in January to bring up their grades with homework and quizzes before the semester ends. While this is beneficial for everyone, it would especially help decrease the stress of the senior class, whose first semester grades are of crucial importance in the college admissions process. Being able to leave for winter break without having to worry about exams looming in the near future would also be an added bonus.

Secondly, and most importantly, teachers should be given more flexibility in creating a midterm exam. While for AP courses a midterm examination serves as a valuable “dry run” before the actual AP exam in May, not all classes benefit from such testing. Science classes, for example, could create and conduct a formal lab experiment and write a report on it in lieu of a formal exam. Similarly, English teachers could assign an essay, which would pull together the analytical, writing, and grammatical skills students have learned throughout the first semester, rather than administering a traditional midterm. Although midterm exams in some form will likely always be necessary, they don’t necessarily have to be a grueling three hours’ worth of multiple choice and short answer questions — and teachers should have more discretion to test students’ knowledge as they best see fit.

This year, it only took four snow days and an inundation of emails to cancel midterms. What will it take to meaningfully reform midterms and create a positive, permanent solution?

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1 Comment

One Response to “A Modest Proposal to Modify Midterms”

  1. govalum on March 11th, 2016 4:17 pm

    The same thing happened in January 2000 and totally messed up the start of the 3rd 9 weeks. So yes, shift the exam schedule!

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