In-Person Midterms Catch Students Off Guard


Midterms were never fun. Even pre-COVID-19, they were always stressful, big, cumulative tests worth a big chunk of our course grade.

However, there was an added stress this semester: Many of us were taking our midterms in person for the first time since spring 2020. For the past year and a half, many of us have taken our exams online. While online school and exams were far from enjoyable, the sudden plunge back into in-person midterms was a bit of a shock.

Many professors made their online exams open-book last year. Perhaps they wished to lessen the burden on students during difficult times, or maybe they assumed students would use books regardless of whether they allowed it. At the time, this relaxation was something we appreciated; it took away some of the exam-related stress we experienced.

Now, reflecting on how our education has changed in 2020 and 2021, we realize we were unprepared for a wave of in-person, closed-book midterms.

Our unpreparedness was partially due to the switch from open to closed-book. With open-book exams, we lost our study habits and relied on the information readily available to us. 

However, we have to remember that online learning was not easy, and the unique challenges posed to us resulted in a different way of learning. We may not have retained as much information as we did with in-person instruction. As a result, there are significant gaps in our knowledge that our professors may not be aware of.

These gaps are visible in students learning a foreign language. Online language learning is difficult; the lack of face-to-face instruction and conversation means we struggle to use the language we learn. If you started a 1001 language course last fall and just took your first in-person midterm in 1501, chances are you are less prepared to ace that exam than students who received their language instruction fully in person. 

Even if it’s the exact same test, completing a midterm online is different from taking it in person. The small comforts that online school gave us — sitting in a comfortable chair, listening to music, going for a mid-exam walk — disappear in the classroom. In parallel, the small anxieties of in-person exams — being the first person to finish, asking the professor a question, bumping into others on the way out of the room — return in full force.

We talk about the new normal a lot, but we rarely talk about returning to the old normal. However, that’s the more apt term to use here. Once upon a time, in-person, closed-book midterms were the norm. We may not have enjoyed them, but we knew how they worked and taught ourselves strategies to get through them. We made study guides, and we went over the material with our classmates. Midterms were never fun, but they were doable.

If we want to orient ourselves toward a new normal, maybe we need midterms that are doable and somewhat more enjoyable. We know how much easier online midterms were without cramming and memorizing information. Further, some of our online midterms took the form of projects and presentations instead of traditional tests. If we talk about a new normal, perhaps it should be a less stressful normal than the one we knew before.

By now, your midterms have likely wrapped up, but that doesn’t mean the stress has gone away. Your professors have likely started handing back midterm grades. If a professor is hard on you, you must remember not to be too hard on yourself. The past year and a half has been a wild ride, and if your midterm grade is its casualty, that’s OK. If you’re worried about your grade for the course, talk to your professor and see if there’s something you can do to raise it. This is their first in-person midterm in a while, too. 

Your professors may have hinted at upcoming finals. We wish they’d give us a moment to breathe in between stressful exams, but we also recognize that our semester is coming to a close. 

The good news is that the hardest part — the first in-person exam we’ve taken in ages — lies behind us now. We are no longer unprepared. We have time to cultivate good study habits, form group chats with our classmates and hype ourselves up for another exam. We believe that all of us Fordham students can crush our exams this winter, even if our recent ones caught us off guard.