Don’t succumb to midterm hype

Jason Okamoto

Around this time each semester, I don’t bother asking my friends at Sacramento State what they’re doing. I already know the answer. This is the time of the year where most classes require that we all take a test — not just any kind of a test, but midterms.

Midterms are extensive tests covering the first half of a course’s material; I like calling it the “Do You Understand This Crap So Far?” test, because it’s really the only way to justify such an exam. It makes sense for students to take a test to monitor their progress (or lack thereof), and a preview of the final isn’t such a bad idea. But if we have the final, why do we need the midterm?

Sometimes the midterm’s sole purpose seems to be filling space on an otherwise uneventful syllabus — to make it look more impressive or intimidating to the students. Sometimes, depending how you score, it also keeps students in check. If you do poorly on the midterm, it can feel like a backhand from a professor who says, “How do you like me now, sucka?”

And sometimes it feels like midterms are on some professors’ syllabi just because everybody else does it. There have been many times when I wanted to approach a professor and tell him or her, “Midterms are just not your style. Your teaching skills are beyond this traditional and formulaic thing that we call the midterm.”

But even though professors give the tests, it doesn’t mean that students have to blow them out of proportion. I’ve grown to hate the word as it comes from the lips of people I know. If I ask a friend out to the movies, he can’t go because of midterms. If I ask a woman out on a date, she declines because of midterms. It’s more likely she just doesn’t want to go out with me, but still, she’s allowed to use midterms as an excuse.

The importance of midterms has not only surpassed the final, but also crept into the ballpark of life’s other major events, like birthdays or getting married. I always get a sick feeling in my stomach when a friend of mine says that he is stressed out as the result of midterms. There is no faster way to dampen my joy of being alive.

I’m not implying that we don’t need midterms, because I know they serve a purpose. But there are better ways for professors to ensure that we understand stuff so far: The class can engage in a discussion of the material that would have otherwise been on the midterm. If something like this can’t be arranged, then at least change the name of the midterm. Something like “The First Big Test” sounds more appealing. That might get students excited, like going to the first big game of the playoffs to support your favorite team.

Despite my arguments against the midterm, it will continue to be the measuring tool for students and professors. My bickering mainly comes from the fact that I suck at midterms. And I suppose that not only I, but every student, should work hard to meet the challenges that the world puts before them. The midterm is a testament to that.

But if only we could drop the midterm label, then it would at least force women to be more imaginative in thinking up excuses for not wanting to go out with me.