Relaxed midterm exam policy leaves students less stressed and inspires reflection and creativity

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Senior Molly Vonk has faith in the new revisions to the midterm exam plan recently adopted by FHC. 

Molly feels that having a normal final exam this year would not work because of asynchronous learning and the difficulty of remembering based on what you read on a screen. She’s all in favor of the new optional exam plan.

“[The change in midterm exam expectations was a good choice this year] because the way I see it is that teachers are able to use the same exams every year because the curriculum is the same,” Molly said. “Even though the curriculum is technically the same, it will never be the same as it was [based on] the circumstances that we are in. Because of that, it’s important to accommodate those differences. The impact that has on students physically, mentally and the impacts on learning needs to be taken into consideration.”

Biology and forensics teacher Joslyn Burnaby has seen the effects of the stress to study for exams in her students. She knows it is essential for her students to focus on learning rather than spending their time stressing and studying. 

She has decided to assign smaller assessments rather than a large exam. Burnaby is giving her biology classes a quiz and her forensics class will have a chapter test.

“[The main response I have gotten from students is] relief,” Burnaby said.

Similarly, principal Steve Passinault does not want to add extra stress to the lives of students during this unprecedented school year. 

Passinault has seen how difficult switching between three ways of learning—hybrid, online, and fully in-person schedules—and knows that it was the right decision for FHC to give students and staff flexibility for the upcoming semester exams.

The impact that has on students physically, mentally and the impacts on learning needs to be taken into consideration.”

— Molly Vonk

Given the disjointed nature of this semester and the number of different learning platforms that students and teachers had to work with, we decided that in fairness to students and teachers that we would give them flexibility with semester exams,” Passinault said. “We do not want to add more stress to the students during this pandemic and unusual school year.”

As for what the exam schedule will look like this year, Passinault laid out the basic format for teachers to follow. If learning is still virtual, Thursday, December 17th, and Friday, December 18th will have three exam slots each day. Teachers are able to use those slots however they choose to end the semester. 

If learning is hybrid, the exam slots will be spread throughout the week. A Cohort will have three exam slots on Monday, December 14th, and Thursday, December 17th; B Cohort will have three exam slots on Tuesday, December 15th, and Friday, December 18th. In addition, these exam slots will be regular class lengths. 

Due to the flexibility of the midterm exams this year, they will not need as long of an hour to complete.

Sophomore Megan Fox knows the substitutes for exams will provide a cushion to keep her and her classmate’s grades afloat.

[The change] does relieve stress,” Megan said. “It feels like another assignment compared to a lengthy exam. I have never had much stress over exams, but for students with grades close to an A or A-, it will really help them in increasing and or maintaining their grades. Also, with some teachers not having exams, it eases the anticipation of studying.” 

Megan believes that she will do better on the substitute exams than on a normal end-of-semester exam.

“I will most likely do better on the substitute exams this year,” Megan said. “Many of my teachers are cutting information out of the curriculum leaving the most important. This will make it easier for studying because [we as] students will have [to study] only the necessary information.”

Meanwhile, sophomore Benjamin Rogala is not sure how he will do on the substitute exams compared to a normal exam and knows most tests over Zoom are harder. He also is concerned that the teachers are all doing different things.

“Honestly it’s hard to tell [whether I would do better on a normal exam or a substitute] at this point,” Ben said. “What I do know, however, is that I am a good test taker and I use my resources; timed tests and open-ended tests are more difficult to do over zoom. I think if anything I would like all of the exams to be the same and not all over the place like they seem to be.”

Both Ben and Megan have seen how COVID-19 is affecting whether or not teachers will have tests. Obviously, since students are at home, teachers cannot easily tell whether a student is cheating which would lead to concern that the student does not understand the curriculum. 

“I know a few of my teacher’s plans for exams. So far my teachers are using different methods than a written exam,” Megan said. “[The] majority of my exams are verbal through either video or Zoom. For example, in Spanish, Mr. Silvestre stated that our exam will be answering a few questions in Spanish verbally. He does not want to give a written exam because of cheating.”

Burnaby is not overly worried about cheating because she knows she can check her student’s daily assignments to see they are understanding the concepts.

“[I will know which students have mastered the concepts] by monitoring daily work and formative assessments,” Burnaby said. “I am still giving chapter level assessments as well. For biology, it is about science skills and we have been working on those all year.”

Ben, similar to Megan, has teachers straying away from a typical test or exam-like format. He believes that the option to choose what to assign for a midterm will give teachers a chance to be creative and allow students to reflect on their learning.

“I know a few of my teacher’s plans for midterms, most of which will steer away from the traditional test,” Ben said. “Obviously, the teaching environment is different and this year it gives an opportunity for creative teachers to assign something that promotes thought and reflection. For example, Mr. Georges’s final isn’t a test at all but rather a presentation showcasing all the things we have learned this year so far.”

Passinault encourages these creative and reflective assignments that the teachers have come up with. He wants students to see the importance of what they have learned this year and knows their teachers can help them see it best.

We have defined [the final project] as a ‘culminating activity,’” Passinault said. “There is some value in having an activity that draws all of the learning from the semester together so that students see the connections and comprehensiveness of their learning. We wanted to leave the judgment to the teachers who know their students’ needs better than anyone else.”