Opinion | Staff Editorials

Midterm mania can be helped by standardization

We’re in midterm season. And that means cramming, caffeine-ing, and scrambling—in a word, stress. But for many, this time of year is even worse than finals because midterm exams are on top of mountains of regular reading and problem sets.We often talk about stress culture on campus in the abstract. But there are concrete measures that can improve wellness in the student body. With that in mind, we suggest the creation of a “standard” midterm week during which professors know that students will be especially busy preparing for and taking exams. This knowledge would allow professors to adjust their syllabi to give students ample time to focus on their midterms.

The registrar currently marks a “mid-term date” to mark the temporal midpoint in the semester. However, this footnote says nothing of actual midterms. Nor does it appear to carry much gravity.

At Columbia, “midterm” is a noun that loosely means “an exam anytime after the first day of classes and before the final.” With the current wide range of midterm dates, there is no standard midterm date. And that means that professors have no barometer for the “typical” student workload around this time of year—information they could use to budget their own class’s assignments.

In suggesting a designated midterm week, we’re not advocating for all midterms to be condensed into a narrow window of time, or asking for professors to hold our hands. Rather, there ought to be one week that professors recognize as a time when students will be studying for exams for several classes. With that information, they could lighten the load on regular reading assignments or problem sets, allowing students to focus their energy on the exams scheduled during this period. 

But it’s more than just professors. Clubs could slow down their operations, and administrators could choose to schedule big events outside this week. Additionally, more stress-reducing events, like snack breaks and visiting puppies, could be set up at this time to help students.  

Of course, this is no small order. Columbia can’t simply put everything off for a week. Moreover, professors largely schedule assignments and midterms based solely on the material they would like to cover. But no undergraduate takes a course in a vacuum. Varying workload between courses will always impact how students allocate their time and effort. Given this reality—and a shared desire to help students cope with high stress levels—it would make sense for professors to plan, at least to some degree, around students’ other academic obligations.

We understand that instituting a standard midterm week may not help much with classes that administer more than one exam during the semester. There is no perfect solution to eliminate midterm stress. But many students say they prefer finals to midterms because, at the end of the semester, the entire campus respects and acknowledges that exam season is hitting a fever pitch. 

Ultimately, changes in policy are essential. We’re not sure how well this sort of week would work. But we have to try something to change the current situation because we can all agree on one point: Midterms suck.  

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To respond to this staff editorial, or to submit an op-ed, contact opinion@columbiaspectator.com.


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Anonymous posted on

While professors don't know (or care) about the assignments and schedules of other courses, they are very aware of the way their material can be best assessed, and that should not be affected by a way a very different course is structured.

Students consent to the courses they take. Targeting the courses and their assessments removes the blame from systemic cultural issues that encourage students to register for too many, too difficult courses that results in these periods of concentrated stress.

Anonymous posted on

I'm increasingly disappointed in the quality and substance of our staff editorials. Something like this once in a while is fine, but we have been writing about very superficial non-issues on a roll. There are bigger questions we need to ask.