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Why students should have a month before they’re marked

Photo: Kim Wiens

Most professors give some sort of assignment in September, but they shouldn’t.

Many of these September assignments are referred to as midterms, yet they often seem to occur only a week or so after students have purchased their  textbooks. A professor should only schedule a midterm if they intend to hold it when about half of the course material has been covered. Using “midterm” when referring to a test that covers only two weeks of material is misleading and unnecessarily stressful.

Semantics aside, students simply haven’t covered enough course information to necessitate an evaluation in September. Not only have you not had enough time to cover course information, but you’re also missing interactions with the professor and chances to understand what professors may be looking for in assignments.    

This situation can be especially tough on first-years, who likely just learned how to effectively attend a lecture, never mind effectively take a test. While most people need to write university midterms before feeling confident about how best to tackle them, there are better ways to transition students into the world of university evaluations.

Professors would be wise to give fresh students at least a month of lectures and small study-aid assignments before forcing them to attempt an evaluation that could decide as much as 15-25 per cent of their final mark.

While professors must return a sufficient amount of marking to students before the deadline to drop a class,  professors can easily evaluate in October and  be able to meet all of those requirements.

The idea of having a specific date that profs can’t schedule midterms before is one that the university should consider.

Spacing course evaluations out better also helps with student mental health. Mental health has recently become a much discussed issue on campuses and an issue that is affecting more students than before. In one study by the Canadian Association of College and University Students 40 per cent of people surveyed said they “felt so depressed it was difficult” at some point within the last 12 months, 57 per cent “felt overwhelming anxiety” and 10.9 per cent had “seriously considered suicide”. It would help most students to have more time to gain confidence in their new academic environment before the pressure of a midterm is added to the stress of adapting to university life.

Giving students more time before assignments would also be good for professors since it enables them to have more time with their classes, and potentially more time to mark if assignments are spaced out to a greater extent.

Holding back on testing students until after the first month of classes is a good strategy that could benefit students in a variety of ways.