Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Multiple Midterms?

Before arriving to this sun-drenched intellectual oasis we refer to as the University of California, Santa Barbara, I served time—two whole years of it—at a community college three minutes away from the suburban dwelling of my parents. Some of us called it “Harvard on the Hill,” while others have memories of “MIT.” To clarify the relevancy of those titles, the college I refer to is Moorpark College, which just so happens to be located on a hillside.

I was new to this world of college. Fresh out of the land called high school, I had no clue what to expect. Sure, there were rumors that girls can wear skimpier clothing, the campus provides ashtrays for those chained down by the laws of cigarettes, and coffee is widely available for a minimal cost. But, as for the classes (oh, yeah, I almost forgot about those), I had heard stories of grueling, torturous, barbaric exams, and I had an older sister at UCLA to confirm the legends. Grades will no longer be composed of 10 to 20 exams, homework, extra credit, oral presentations, food brought into class, and attendance. Instead, most professors will choose the fate of their students’ lives by grading only two exams: one midterm and one final. Once in a while, there will be one or two more exams, and perhaps some quizzes. For the sake of the argument to be presented, let’s look deeper into the meaning of the word “midterm.”

Citing the New Oxford American Dictionary, 2nd Edition, a midterm is “the middle of a period of office, an academic term, or a pregnancy;” more specifically, “an exam in the middle of an academic term.” Now, to sound as though I’m writing an academic paper, allow me to point out the obvious use of the word “middle” in those definitions. “Middle” is a crucial part of the word “midterm,” as the first half of “midterm” is derived from “middle.” Whoa. Common Sense tells me (yes, he’s sitting on my shoulder right now) that any graduate of middle school can figure that one out. Perhaps, here at a prestigious university, I shouldn’t make such assumptions.

That tangent aside, here I am at UCSB, a top-ranked educational institution with an amazing reputation (yes, in more than one way, I know). We have numerous Nobel Prize-winning professors at this fine establishment. However, did a large handful of our acclaimed faculty miss out on basic English class in the seventh grade? I, along with many of you readers, I’m sure, have had one too many classes here with two, or, dare I say, even three midterms. Oh, okay, sure, give us three midterms in the middle of the term. But no! Instead, we have three evenly spaced out exams, and a final.

At my community college, where 60 percent of the students go on to, well, nothing, professors who likely do not even have PhDs and range in age from 22 to 104 can distinguish a “midterm” from an “exam.” A class generally has “Exam 1,” “Exam 2,” “Exam 3,” and a final. Sure, no problem. But UCSB professors have some strange notion in mind that we students cannot handle “exams.” As a result, we now have “Midterm 1,” “Midterm 2,” “Midterm 3,” and the final, still spaced an even two to three weeks apart for our test-taking and Scantron-purchasing convenience. Why, in the name of whomever you believe in, must our PhD-possessing faculty insist on using the utterance “midterm” for an exam that does not fall in the MIDDLE of the quarter?

Well, thankfully I have yet to take a class with multiple finals (but I hold no doubt that a professor somewhere—anywhere—offers a class with “Final 1” and “Final 2”).