The wisdom of a midterm

I’ve just completed my eighth week of my first semester of law school. Halfway done! There is something about that mid-way mark that lets me know I will make it. I’ve got as much behind me as ahead of me, and I can survive it.

That midway mark has another, less celebratory significance: midterms.

No midterms were scheduled at the beginning of the semester; however, my cohorts and I got a surprise in week seven. Property midterm in two weeks! Graded! Closed book and closed notes! The rumor mills swirled that maybe a classmate had asked for the midterm. What was she thinking?

So, instead of working on that outline, I’ve worked on a list of pros and cons she and our professor might have considered:

Pros:

1.       Assessment. To this point, beyond some constructive criticism on a written assignment, we 1Ls have gotten no feedback. We have no idea how we are doing, what we need to work on or where this is all going. A graded or ungraded midterm would provide some indication of our achievements so far.

2.       Preparation for finals. While a midterm might count for a small portion of our grades, it’s usually the final exam that defines our GPA. A midterm would force us to outline earlier, and begin to synthesize information long before finals cram sessions. It would also show us how to better study for finals.

3.       Practice for finals. Beyond beginning to use the information, a midterm would help us with final-taking skills. Writing essays, time management and quick recall are important tools, more easily honed by repetition.

Cons:

1.       No time! With reading assignments, writing assignments and just plain keeping up, getting ready for a midterm feels like an unbearable task. It could mean skipping other assignments to prepare.

2.       Learning for a test. This consideration comes straight from a professor—he’d rather we are learning and thinking about each new topic, rather than spending our time memorizing fact patterns and coming up with acronyms.

3.       Stress. I’m not sure this needs an explanation, but just in case you weren’t sure—we 1Ls hardly sleep, and spend most waking hours focused on school already. Do we really need a midterm to add to the stress?

In retrospect, my cons feel like excuses, and those pros really seem to add up to a better education. I should be thankful that my classmate and professor want to help us do this a little better. Maybe, if more professors offered a midterm, our stress levels would be lower and we’d be better prepared.

Now, do I dare follow suit and ask the other guys?

by Merideth Kimble, a first-year student at the University of San Diego School of Law and columnist for The National Jurist

 

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