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You take a glance at the clock; it’s 2:30 a.m. The dull yellow light of your desk lamp is the only thing keeping you awake. Pages and notebooks and textbooks surround you, and the last ounces of coffee are disappearing. You’re nearly finished going over the final chapter, trying to shove every last vocabulary word into your overworked brain. You think that there has to be a better way.
If you’re a college student, chances are that you’ve been there before.
“The tests are stressful, especially with finals,” said Adam Zika, a 24-year-old sophomore finance major. “I cram almost every time.”
It’s no secret that these tests can be a stressful time for students, but does it have to be this way? The system of extensive, content-packed midterms and finals can put so much information into one test that students often end up unhealthily cramming. I propose saving students the stress and headaches by instead giving more frequent tests that cover less content.
The idea may be less revolutionary than you think. Philosophy professor Michael Huemer gives his major social theories class six tests throughout the semester.
“It makes the students’ grades much higher,” Huemer said. “I used to have just three tests, then four, then six.”
Huemer saw an increase in student performance the more he broke up content in tests. On the traditional midterm and finals system, he said, “I think it’s just too much for the students to study.”
Of course, there are valid reasons why professors may prefer to stick to the conventional method of testing. It may be easier for them to plan for a hectic semester schedule, and it gives them less to grade (and write, for that matter). But the possible convenience for professors does not outweigh the mental drag on students.
Robert Lindsey, a 26-year-old Ph.D. student in the cognitive science department, has done research in psychology centered around student learning.
“I think the midterm and finals system is absolutely not conducive to long-term retention,” Lindsey said. “There’s this thing in psychology called the spacing effect. It’s the idea that if you space out your studying, you’ll forget things much more slowly than if you cram.”
Giving students tests more frequently would encourage less last-minute cramming and more manageable studying. If we truly want students to remember what they learn for more than the six days of finals week, we need to give more frequent tests.
“From a pure memory perspective, having frequent cumulative exams is the best way to promote long-term retention,” Lindsey said.
To the readers running and hiding at the word “cumulative,” don’t freak out yet — in a system of more frequent tests, you would naturally be memorizing information more effectively because you’d be studying more often, but less content at once. If each test included some information from the last test before it, it would encourage better memorization, while still avoiding the need for students to cram everything from an entire semester (or half a semester) in at the last minute.
“I think that’d be probably more helpful and easier to study for,” said Megan Couper, 20, a sophomore marketing major.
The fact that some classes at CU give multiple midterms (giving three midterms and a final) is a step in the right direction, but until all classes can offer a system of more frequent tests (like Huemer’s, which gives a short test every two to three weeks), we won’t have a viable solution to the problems related to the midterms and finals system.
Contact CU Independent Staff Writer Ellis Arnold at Ellis.firstname.lastname@example.org.