Midterms have little value in high school setting

January 28, 2016 — by Eric Sze

The stated  purpose of these midterms is to prepare students for the reality of college. But while midterms in college are acceptable, midterms in high school are simply not viable.

Around the halfway mark of every semester, upperclassmen begin buzzing about a test that hardly anyone understands why they must take: the dreaded midterm.

Out of all of the classes offered at the school, I’m currently only aware that two have midterms: AP Language & Composition and AP Chemistry. In each of these classes, the midterm counts for a significant portion (12.5 percent) of the semester grades. A poor mark on the midterm could drastically hurt a student’s overall semester grade.

The stated  purpose of these midterms is to prepare students for the reality of college. But while midterms in college are acceptable, midterms in high school are simply not viable.

For starters, most college courses that have midterms have no daily homework assignments or regular unit tests. College students also take fewer classes on average and thus have a more flexible schedule.

However, in high school, classes such as AP Chemistry have midterms in addition to daily homework and unit tests, leaving inadequate time to study for them. And because midterms are during the semester, students are usually saturated with new material right before the exam. AP Chem, for instance, has a chapter test less than a week before the midterm. Meanwhile, students must juggle their homework load from five to six other classes, leaving them completely overwhelmed.

And it gets worse. For seniors in these classes, first-semester midterms fall near the deadline for early decision/action college applications, making this time of year even more stressful.

A uniform no-midterm policy should be instituted throughout the school. After all, how is AP Chem so different than AP Bio that one could argue that only one class needs a midterm? Similarly, how is AP Lang so different than AP Lit? The lack of uniformity in the midterm policy only serves to weaken any arguments presented for midterms — if these reasons are so fundamental and compelling, then all classes at SHS should have them.

Teachers may argue that they administer midterms to gauge their students’ learning, allowing students to assess their weaknesses to learn from their mistakes for the second half of the semester. However, midterms are completely unnecessary to fulfill this end: In AP Chem, and most other AP classes, students can easily determine their progress in the course through their regular unit tests.

Instead of midterms, teachers could consider other types of assessments that serve the same purpose of critical thinking that midterms have. For example, classes such as English 11 Honors and Anatomy & Physiology have replaced finals and midterms with a more creative approach to assessment.

Instead of a fall final in English 11 Honors, students prepare a performance of one scene in the play “Hamlet”, in addition to analyzing the scene’s rhetorical strategies. While this is not a structured test, students must understand the purpose and nuances of the scene and show their understanding through their performance and analysis in order to succeed.

In Anatomy & Physiology, students complete a project called 20 time at the end of second semester and give a Ted Talk to present their project. This isn’t a test either, but it requires in-depth research, allowing students to gain better research skills, something they may need in their future lives.

Ultimately, the AP teachers need a uniform policy regarding midterms. Because midterms have negligible benefits in a high school setting, removing them entirely or replacing them with assessment alternatives is undoubtedly the best route.

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