Midterms… Well, Not Really

Midterms... Well, Not Really

Sofia Colorado, Staff Writer

For me and many other students, the end of a marking period is a time to reflect on how to possibly improve in the next one. But, it also sparks the beginning of TCA’s in the Freehold Regional High School District. TCA stands for “Through Course Assessment” and is usually taken at the end of every marking period, so four times a school year. The second marking period ended February seventh for Freehold Township High School, and for two consecutive weeks prior to this date, is usually when all teachers decided to give these exams, along with other tests and quizzes to finish the marking period. Since a TCA is not commonly used by many other schools to test students, it is obvious that it is one of the many things that makes attending Freehold Township High School special, but it also raises the question, is this the best system?

A TCA is a vital part of a student’s final grade since they are averaged out into your grade for the class. First, marking period one and two’s TCA grades are added out and averaged, to then become a “midterm” grade. If taking a half-year course, also known as a semester course, this grade becomes the final examination grade and is then averaged out with your grades from the two marking periods in which the class was taken. But, for full-year classes, marking period three and four’s TCA grades are averaged into your “final” grade. This average for your TCA is then average with the rest of your four marking periods, so dividing a student’s grade into five parts. For example, if one receives an A- first marking period, B+ second marking period, C+ third marking period, B for the fourth marking period, and a C for your examination grade, then your average would be a B for that class. 

Okay, now that we have gotten the explanation out of the way, let’s get into the pros and cons:

An obvious pro is that since there is less time apart from the tests, it is a great way for students to be able to score a higher grade, due to the fact that there is less material to review. Because there is less time between exams, less material is able to be presented as opposed to a full semester, therefore students are able to have the information fresh in their minds when the time for exams comes. But, a downside to this same system that allows students to focus more on the material presented, is that the frequency in testing leaves little to no room for students to be able to learn how to learn content over an extended period of time. All colleges follow a midterm and final exams type of grading system, so having a TCA, does not allow students to be able to prepare for this rigorous and different system. 

Another pro is that every TCA is different from the last, depending on the class. With midterms and finals, there are only two exams available to be able to show one full understanding of the material. But, the TCA system allows teachers to have more ways to grade students on their knowledge. Keep in mind that for every class, there is a different kind of test. So for example, if you take history, you might have to answer a document-based question, while in math you might have to simply take a math exam. An example of this diversity of testing would be Latin, a class that I am currently taking. In Latin class, marking period one is usually a standard test, full of questions on Latin grammar and translations. But, for TCA two in Latin, students are able to show their understanding of the Latin culture by researching a given topic thoroughly and creating a detailed presentation on the subject. This different type of testing allows students who are bad test takers to be able to exceed, by giving them a grade on something other than a test, and therefore being able to bring their midterm grade up. This is a luxury that is not possible to offer to students who follow the midterm final system, as the grade they receive on their midterms is not able to be altered. 

Additionally, a con with this system is that because this type of exam happens four times a school year, it means that instead of one week filled with midterms and another filled with finals, four weeks a school year are filled with cramming. Teachers are given a time period in which these exams are able to take place, and yet some magical power makes these exams be all the same week, usually the week before the end of the marking period. Ironic, isn’t it. Additionally, since there is the end of the marking period, many teachers are giving final tests and quizzes, which are meant to be seen as grade boosters, but frankly are able to do the opposite with everything going on. While it might seem like this is simply complaining of the busy week, it can be quite mentally draining to have an exam every single day for an entire week, especially exams that count towards one’s final grade. A little insight into this hectic schedule would be my own schedule of the exam week which follows:

  • Monday, January 24: A novel reflection (test grade), English homework, and chemistry homework, guidance counselor meeting for scheduling next year, along with after school activities such as practice for winter track and working on this article
  • Tuesday, January 25: History test, an in-class essay (test grade), a chemistry test, chemistry homework, math homework, and my after school activities
  • Wednesday, January 26: History TCA, English homework, and a race (which ran late, meaning I got home at around 9 p.m.)
  • Thursday, January 27: English vocabulary test (which there was a lockdown during), chemistry TCA, Latin homework, along with meetings during the morning and lunchtime, and afterschool activities
  • Friday, January 28: English TCA, English homework, math homework, and afterschool activities

Not that I am complaining about the workload or having to study for the grade that you want, but it can be stressful for students to have to do this multiple times a school year, instead of the simple two times that there would have to be under the regular midterm and finals. 

While I am writing this at the end of this week, frankly, I’m glad it’s over but I am also very tired. But, seeing as I am not the only student attending Freehold Township High School, each experience is different, and it is important to remember that while some students crack under the pressure of this hectic schedule, others benefit. In a poll taken by thirty students which included all four grade levels, 70% of students said that they prefer the TCA system, along with 70% agreeing that they believe they perform better under the TCA system. When asked why they choose the TCA system, here is what students had to say, 

“While I understand why some may prefer to take 2 big tests as opposed to 4 smaller ones, I personally like the TCA system because I feel like there is less material to study, therefore leaving people with fewer things to memorize and practice leading up to the tests…”

“…With the weight that TCAs have, I feel like it’s fairer that they take place at the end of every marking period rather than happening at the end of every semester. It allows for more manageable amounts of content covered while still remaining cumulative with everything learned so far. Personally, I would go crazy with only two assessments making up 20% of my grade, so it is broken up and the content more practical definitely helps me learning-wise and with my mental health. Plus, the point-grading system is very forgiving as well, so that extra safety net puts less pressure on the student’s side of things.”

For the students that choose the midterm system, here is what some had to say,

“If we took midterms, then there would be an entire week built into the schedule for just midterms like there is for finals. The stress of taking TCAs is made worse by the homework and regular tests other teachers are giving. This week, I had 4 TCAs and 4 major assessment tests/projects, on top of all of the homework my other teachers were giving. The midterm/final system would alleviate the stress that the TCA system places during the last two weeks of the marking period.”

“TCAs are sporadic and unorganized, having three one day and then the next one-two weeks later. Having one week of midterms like all other schools would make studying easier because you only have to worry about the one thing.”

When asked if there was anything that could be changed within the TCA system here are two responses, 

“One thing I would change about TCAs would definitely be the writing load, specifically in history (as we have to write DBQs in essay form). I’ve always struggled with timed writing personally, so questions with multiple choice answers make me feel better and more prepared for the information I have to review (I can’t really “go over” a writing assignment if I don’t have the prompt, so being able to study helps me to feel more confident in answering the questions on the TCAs).”

“LinkIt can be a pain, but I’d like to see overall increased transparency over how it affects your final grade. I’ve had teachers explain it to me over and over again when the end of the marking period hits, but if you asked me how to compute the percentages it makes up of your transcript final grade, I could not. Too much math.”

While each student feels differently about the way that our exams are structured, there will always be things that work for one person and do not for another. With this in mind, it is easily recognized that no matter what system is in place, these exams will always prove to be a stressful time for students. 

Now that the marking period has come to an end, the TCA and exam season has passed until the next. Although not all can agree on which system is better, one thing that every student can agree on is that we are glad that we are done with testing for now, as we can now continue to focus more on other things, such as writing an article for the school newspaper.