The false hope of take-home midterms

Janna Herchenroder '14, Staff Writer

The professor looks expectantly at the classroom like they just did us a huge favor and they expect a “professor of the year” award. The words “take-home midterm” sounds exciting at first. Suddenly you daydream about how much you won’t be freaking out and how much better you and your roommates will be getting along. You immediately imagine how you won’t have to be under the pressure of writing everything you were supposed to be soaking in during the first half of the semester in a 50 minute time slot. Then, after a moment of dwelling on those words it hits you: you have to take it home.

A midterm is an exam and the nature of an exam, in my experience, is to see how much you have learned in your subject. It is not an essay to be handed in – that’s a different assignment entirely. Now the range of painfulness depends entirely on the kind of exam; a multiple choice test takes a skim through notes or a quick Google search, but for an English major it isn’t that easy and usually involves multiple essays.

Any midterm involves preparation in different forms, whether it be the fretful studying and rereading of every required book, or a skim of Sparknotes and an extra nap. After those intense hours, you enter the zone feeling prepared only to find out that the questions that really stump you involve information from the professor’s random rant one day in class about how their beauty mark turned into a melanoma. But then if there is an essay to be written during the test, it is usually graded with much more leniency than formal essays. I don’t know about you, but my in-class essays tend to be a crazy rush to just put information on the paper, not necessarily in order. More time to write the essay means much higher expectations: it will be typed, with no errors and it actually has to make sense.

The take-home midterm then becomes a gigantic homework assignment or project that is not completed in the usual class period, but you actually have a good week to do it.  This way, it continuously hangs over the student’s head and is extra work because your answers are held to a higher standard. Also, the professor can then assign homework for an active class period that replaces the day the test would have been administered. By “active” class period I am referring to a professor teaching the class in the form of lecture or discussion. When the midterm is during class, there is no active class during that time.

Does a take-home midterm then count in excess of the allotted 15 hours per week for a 15-credit class-load? I feel like it does because it squeezes in an extra project that would have appeared crazy and intimidating on the syllabus. Instead, it makes the professor look like an angel at the beginning of the semester – by midterm you don’t know what hit you. If you’re given the choice, consider voting for an in-class midterm exam and saving yourself an extra week of headache when it could be over in a day.