Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

Advertise in our classifieds section
Your classified listing could be here!
October 4, 2022

Midterms, finals just don’t cut it

Abriella Corker

Whether classes are in person or online, this semester will not be a normal one. We’re probably going to run into a plethora of unforeseen problems. We will definitely have to think on our feet more than a few times. 

While transitioning back into the swing of classes, I urge professors to reevaluate their pedagogical goals and not mistake this semester as a return to the old normal. As such, I hope to see more diverse grade breakdowns in fall 2020 classes, particularly with the incorporation of regular homework and participation grades in College of Natural Sciences classes instead of just tests.

CNS classes tend to be exam-heavy, often with over 85% of the final grade coming from a few midterms and a final. Without any buffers, students can find themselves in trouble just because they made a simple mistake on an exam.

“There’s a lot of pressure because one little mistake on a test could cost you a letter grade,” biochemistry junior Kelci Bellard said. “I’ve seen people who are good students — who know the material — get test anxiety, and it really affects their grade.”

These kinds of class models don’t translate well to online learning. They will be especially difficult on students who don’t have access to the same supplemental materials such as tutoring, study groups and office hours they relied on before. Biochemistry junior Megan Diaz experienced substantial difficulties last spring when her STEM classes transitioned online but still maintained their test-heavy grading systems. 

“It definitely gave me a lot of anxiety being at home and taking exams online, especially when they were such a big part of the grade,” she said. 

The incorporation of homework and consistent participation points into the grading scheme can alleviate some of the pressure on students this semester. For example, Jonathan Perry, assistant professor of instruction in the Department of Physics, counted weekly homework and in-class questions as 30% of the final grade in his online General Physics I class this summer.

“Physics has challenges … so there’s a lot there for students to be wrestling with,” Perry said.  “They need opportunities to build and test their knowledge, which is an iterative process working towards the exam. (The grading system I have) helps support and reward students engaging with that learning process.”

Bellard and Diaz were both in Perry’s physics class, and they agreed that the increased weight of homework and in-class participation improved their overall learning experience. The consistent learning checks from in-class questions and homeworks made it necessary to stay on top of the material instead of putting off studying until right before an exam.

“(In test-heavy classes), I wouldn’t really review my notes until a week before the test. I would just dread looking over my notes because I knew it would stress me out,” Bellard said. 

These assignments can also help students structure their time more effectively, giving them regular deadlines that can help them establish a routine.

“Being at home all the time, it can be really hard to stay motivated,” said Diaz. “Having due dates that were more often, like homeworks, and having incentives to go to class every day really helped.”

Professors shouldn’t ignore how much students benefit from the inclusion of more diverse evaluation exercises such as homework and class participation points within class grading systems. These grades incentivize regular engagement with class content, so students end up retaining more of what they’ve learned and experience less stress while studying.

Of course, the big changes proposed will not be simple or easy to implement. The transition to online classes imposes as heavy a toll on professors as on students. However, professors don’t have to shoulder the burden alone. There are a number of departments within the University that can help, such as the Faculty Innovation Center and the Texas Institute for Discovery Education in Science, known as TIDES, within CNS.

I can appreciate that this will be an unprecedented semester, but I urge professors to at least contemplate the benefits of including substantial homework and participation grades in their grading schemes. I hope to see these changes as a part of the “new normal” we adopt.

Dasgupta is a neuroscience and biochemistry junior from Frisco, Texas. 

More to Discover
Activate Search
Midterms, finals just don’t cut it