The midterm problem

With midterms around the corner, I can’t help but wonder, “What’s the point?” Most professors handout stressful exams comprised of everything we’ve learned so far. These exams are meant to test our “knowledge” and “command” of the subject.

But how many of us can agree they actually do?

We live in a world where grades matter – the scores we get on tests can define our futures.

Our college careers are arguably primarily defined by the three-digit number we call a GPA, which will follow us for years to come when competing in the work force. It can be a major factor in whether we get hired for our dream jobs over someone else.

With such a high value placed on grades that feed into our GPAs, it begs the question, “Are we here to learn or gather points?”

When we have midterms with 70 multiple choice questions from 10 chapters, are professors really testing our understanding of the subject, or just our memorization skills?

With test being given every other week, are we being examined on our understanding of the subject matter and how what we’ve learned will be applied to the real world, or on our ability to digest and spew out definitions and theories in a timely manner in the hope that we will get a decent grade on the exam? We all know we’ll just end up forgetting what we’ve learned two weeks later.

Because that is what really matters – the grade, not whether we’ve actually learned   what we are being taught.

If universities want to do their duty as educational institutions, then the educators who are part of the institutions need to start taking a hard look at their syllabi and assessing if their teaching practices are preparing their students for the workforce or for their exams.

Yes, there needs to be a quantifiable way to measure a student’s understanding and command of the subject. I would argue assignments that force students to analyze and think critically in regards to what they are being taught seems to be a more effective way to fully gain command of what we are learning.

The way students learn has changed, so why haven’t most teaching and assessment practices followed suit?

We’ve become compliant and accepting of the system of exams.

Most professors are taking the easy way out in the process of handing out an exam and inserting students’ answer sheet in a Scantron that spews out a number grade in less than a minute. This number then gets added to our overall grades in that class, which feeds into our GPAs at the end of the semester.

Our GPAs might help us land the job, but will the memorization skills we’ve learned from taking dozens of exams help us keep it?

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