By: Lubaba Mahmud, Staff Writer
This Halloween I dressed up as a midterm exam guide. It’s, like, the scariest thing ever — next to, you know, midterms. My costume, “ghost of a midterm guide,” was basically pieces of scrap paper that I glued on myself with a few vague instructions such as “be on time” and “see syllabus” — but most were just blank. Instead of “trick-or-treat” I said, “Boo-hoo! So what if the midterm is 30% of your grade?” with a couldn’t-care-less attitude, yawning the entire time. This outfit required minimal effort, which is handy for a last-minute costume, but not great when students’ grades are hanging on the line.
Call me cynical, but I like to know exactly how I’m going to get shattered on an exam. Be it multiple choice questions that spark incomparable amounts of self-doubt, or short-answer questions that are just about as short as NBA players, please professor, for the love of God, just let me know what to expect!
I took a class where the professor stressed that the exam would mainly be based on multiple choice questions. However, on the day of the midterm most of the weight was actually allocated to long-answer math problems. This really hampers time-management during an exam as I had devoted most of my time to filling out the scantron. When I realized that I didn’t have enough time for the math problems nicely hidden on the last page of the question-sheet, it was already too late. While I do take some blame for not going through the entire booklet as soon as I was handed the exam, it is not entirely my fault. I went into the room expecting mostly multiple choice questions and left with a sense of betrayal and utter disappointment instead.
Professors should include the question pattern, along with estimated weights in the midterm guide. This would give students an approximate idea of how much time to spend on each section. The material to be tested on should also be included here so that students know what to study. It’s not always the case that all content taught in classes leading up to the midterm will be on the exam. Once, in class, the professor vaguely mentioned that the midterm would contain all content up to “here” in the middle of the lecture, and didn’t bother clarifying further.
Also, I can’t believe I have to point this out in university, but professors should post instructions at least a week ahead. This would give students enough time to email their instructors with questions and reasonably expect to get an answer before the exam.
And before I exhaust my grief with midterms, maybe — just maybe — test us on things we’ve actually done in class? I know it seems like a wild thought to test students on things you’ve actually taught, but we’re mentally, as well as financially, broke and deserve some justice. I once had a midterm where the class average was 38% because the questions on the exam were radically different from tutorial practice questions. When the class average is an F grade before the bell curve saves us, maybe that should be taken as a red flag that something isn’t right on the instruction side.
Midterms usually have a lot of weight attached to them, so it’s more than fair to ask for comprehensive instructions in a timely manner. Exams induce enough panic on their own, so the least professors can do is give us accurate hints about how to approach them.