Opinion | Midterms and exams count for too much of students’ grades

Exams such as midterms and finals count for most of a student’s grades during a semester, hurting their overall learning experience.

Peter Anders, Opinions Columnist

It is a safe assumption that one of the biggest stressors for college students is the dreaded week of midterms. Starting from the second week of classes, students often begin to prepare for those exams, which loom in the distance like an encroaching storm.

But does this help the student really learn the material? The practice of cramming, when a student waits till the last minute to study for an exam and memorize the material, isn’t a very effective way to really learn. And yet, it is not uncommon for students to begin cramming much earlier, and still promptly forget everything once the exam is over.

Perhaps this is born out of the fact the exams, such as the midterms and finals, count for an obscene amount of a student’s grade in a course, sometimes as much as 60 percent.  In some cases, a student can do well with assignments and homework in the course.  But if they do poorly on the exams, they will still not pass the course. With this in mind, it can be safely assumed many students learn for the exams and do not actually learn the material itself.

Top-notch universities like Harvard have caught onto this and began doing away with final exams entirely. In 2013 only 259 out of 1137 courses offered at Harvard even had final exams at all.

While doing away with final exams entirely seems like a rather hasty approach, the fact that the most prestigious university in the country thinks final exams are problematic and not helpful for students’ learning experience should be somewhat telling that perhaps their value is possibly overstated. University of California, Los Angeles is also drastically decreasing the presence of final exams in its courses as well.

This trend of moving away from the typical format of final exams and midterms became exacerbated during the COVID-19 pandemic when many of the typical class formats were completely unworkable.

To accommodate this, many professors canceled final exams entirely because of the problems that long-distance learning brought to students and the challenges involved.  Afterward, when classes returned to in-person in some capacity, at least some of them made these changes permanent.

The prospect of midterms is also unfairly a daunting idea for many freshmen in college as well. When first informed how much of their grade relies on them succeeding on that single test, many of them often begin panicking. They often wonder when to study, if they should begin immediately, or should wait till closer to the actual date of the midterm exam.

Whenever midterms roll around during the course of a semester at the University of Iowa it is not uncommon to see signs saying how students can best handle the stress of them and emails offering counseling services for those aforementioned students often flood inboxes.

If the university already knows how overly stressful these exams are, it begs the question of: why place so much emphasis on them? Why make them count for sometimes more than all other aspects of a grade combined?

Columns reflect the opinions of the authors and are not necessarily those of the Editorial Board, The Daily Iowan, or other organizations in which the author may be involved.