Midterms stressful, but not the end of the world

Danny Cozzi

Professors don’t use midterms to torture us as if we were war criminals at Guantanamo Bay — at least I don’t think they do.

Regardless of how I feel about insanity-inducing exams, they are useful beyond knocking students’ grades down a few letters.

“[Midterms are] an opportunity to make sure the people … in class are keeping up with the foundational ideas and concepts that we’re addressing in the class,” said Timothy Ryan, associate professor of English. “I do tend to think of timed exams as being a pretty useful and quick way of getting a sense of … what people know.”

The relieving yet not-so-comforting truth is midterms aren’t inhumane psychological experiments as seen in low-budget sci-fi movies.

But that doesn’t mean they’re easy. Midterm grades carry heavy weight and are detrimental for the sensitive fabric of college students’ psyches. No students are alike, so standardized testing is never a good approach to issuing exams.

“The question always is, if we’re [going to] continue using exams, what are the best kind of exams to use?” Ryan said.

I’m a writer, so essay-based tests are my best chances of acing an exam. Nothing triggers my testing anxiety more than filling in one of four answers that might be correct. I’d rather drown a page in ink with wild tangents where at least I have some control over the exam.

Luckily, two good things about the week or so of midterms are they’re right before spring break and we can survive this week from Satan’s front door if we prepare. I’m not talking studying exclusively; I mean mentally preparing to suffer an academic nosedive.

After these five long days we’ll earn a whole week off — which I’m calling “winter break part two.”

We can curl up in the fetal position while our families wrap us in blankets to help cope with the trauma we’re about to undergo.

But we should still prepare for them as much as possible. A list of study tips on NIU’s website is a typical reminder of study habits, but also includes information students might overlook.

The list said finding out what’s on the exam is important and doing so “doesn’t require any mind reading abilities, but it does require you to listen and pay close attention to your professor… .”

If I had always paid attention to teachers, I wouldn’t have been so surprised I made it to college in the first place. Even if you write on your hand, jotting down hints about exams is better than doing nothing. As someone who loves doing nothing more than anything, if I’m taking this advice, so should you.

But even if you think NIU’s general testing practices are awful — which I grant you; they’re pretty awful — it could be worse. Ryan, who attended college in England, said his university saved all the petrifying exams until just before students were about to graduate.

“I’m not sure how productive that is,” Ryan said.

That’s the understatement of the year. Don’t worry, folks. We have a week left before spring break. Compared to British students’ certain doom, we’ll be just fine.