Midterm creation process varies across departments


Emma Kahn

A student fills out a study guide for one of their midterms.

Emma Kahn , News Writing Editor

It’s everyone’s favorite time of year again: midyear exams. Students complain vocally about the struggles of studying for these exams, but most do not consider how what they call “torture” is created.

The process of creating midyear exams is different from department to department, with varying degrees of collaboration, revision and analysis.

According to Mathematics Curriculum Coordinator Joshua Paris, math midyear exams are very much a result of collaboration.

“All of the teachers of each subject, we call them curriculum teams, they all get together and write the midterms as a group,” Paris said.

Paris said that because the department is always tinkering with curriculum and moving units around, a particular year’s midyear exam has to change slightly from year to year in order to align with what has been learned so far.

“We’re always kind of trying to make {midyear exams} better and be able to give us a better measure of how well students have mastered the topics from the first half of the year,” Paris said.

According to Paris, the tests also change from year to year depending on the results of the test in previous years.

“It’s more about doing an item analysis of each question and really determining if it did a good job in letting us know what students know,” Paris explained.

English teacher Peter Sedlak said that the midyear exams he creates vary from year to year and from course to course, and while he does include some detail-oriented questions about specific books, he likes using midyears as an opportunity to assess skills, such as reading comprehension, that cannot otherwise be easily seen.

“I have versions of exams past and I kind of tweak and alter it depending on what I’ve done that year because I’m always doing things differently,” Sedlak said. “I mostly try to consider big picture things for particular midyears, an assessment of some skill stuff that isn’t easily assessible in class or though assignments.”

According to Sedlak, the process of creating an English midyear exam is mostly an individual one due to the different books and topics covered in classes. Sedlak also said that, with the exception of parts of the freshman midyear, it is difficult to standardize how tests will be graded, even within the same course.

“It’s hard to do {standardized grading} because we’re not in such sync and we don’t have a common assessment like math or science or even world history, because their curriculum is all unique and the same, and we’re all teaching very different things,” Sedlak said.

World Language Curriculum Coordinator Agnès Albérola said that since so many aspects of a language have to be tested, multiple days and tests are required for language midyear exams.

“We have reading, listening, speaking and writing, so we can’t administer everything in 90 minutes,” Albérola said. “It’s also very hard for a proctor who is unfamiliar with the language to administer anything that has to do with listening or speaking.”

According to Albérola, world language teachers, like teachers in the other departments, modify their exams from year to year according to where in the content a particular class is. Albérola also said that when there is a class only taught by one person, that person goes about the same process, but individually.

“The teachers who share the same course are given some time to meet together and look at some examples from the past, modify maybe to meet where they are, so the bulk of it should be the same,” Albérola said. “If you are in the same course, your midyear exam should look very similar, and even the way they are graded should be very similar.”

Sedlak and Paris both addressed the fact that midyear exams may not be the optimal way to assess students’ knowledge, but that they are useful in a way. Paris explained that, while they are a good experience, the math department is reconsidering the traditional midyear exam.

“What I would say is we’re really thinking a lot about how we can use the midterm exam time to really get a sense of what students are able to do and what they know in a way that better matches their experiences throughout the year,” Paris said.