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Thursday, March 11, 2010

A Law School Midterm Week: Hell Week or a Helluva Good Idea?

When I guest blogged here last April, I did a post about law school midterms. I noted that I give an ungraded midterm in all of my classes and listed nine reasons for doing so. The main reason I give an ungraded midterm is to give students feedback about where they stand at the mid-point of the semester. The main reason why the midterm is ungraded is that "I have a feeling that if I gave a graded midterm, students would understandably but detrimentally (for both their other professors and them) shift most of their attention away from other classes in the week(s) before the midterm." At the same time, I lamented how the "one exam to rule them all" format of most law school classes means that a student's performance on one day can make or break the student regardless of how the student performed over the course of the rest of the semester. For this reason, I would love to be able to give a graded midterm, but I just don't see it working out for me in the classic law school structure.

That said, in my previous post, I raised the idea of a midterm week. Under this idea, a week at the mid-point of a semester would be designated "midterm week," and there would be no classes. Instead, every class would have a midterm. Under this system, there would be no worry about students skipping other classes and coming to class underprepared in the week when they are taking a graded midterm in another class. No set of students would be disadvantaged by having to take their attention away from other classes; instead, all students would be in the same boat. All students would get feedback about where they stand at the mid-point of the semester, and the final exam would no longer be the be all end all.

Of course, a midterm week would increase workloads for professors. It would increase stress for students and would be one hell of a hell week. It would mean that professors would have to cut a week worth of material from their syllabi. In other words, it wouldn't be ideal, but I doubt that many professors would say that the current situation is ideal either. So, what do readers think? Would you endorse a midterm week at your school, would you entertain the idea, or are you completely opposed to the idea? Or does your school already have some version of midterm week? Once again, you can answer by responding to the following poll and/or leaving a comment to this post. For, the record, I am in the "My law doesn't have a version of it, and I am ambivalent on it" category.

Do you endorse the idea of a law school midterm week?

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-Colin Miller  

Posted by Evidence ProfBlogger on March 11, 2010 at 09:04 AM in Teaching Law | Permalink


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There is an alternative to a graded midterm (which would be a nightmare for those of us who teach classes of 95-100 students). I give my 1L Civil Procedure students 7 quizzes over the course of the semester, one on each of the major units in the course. They are worth a total of 20% of the grade. They give students an idea of how they're doing, as well as counting toward the grade; and because they get feedback (see below), they also learn from taking the quizzes.

I post the quizzes on our version of Blackboard when we finish a unit, and they are due at the end of the following weekend. Students can take them any time, anywhere, on their computers. They consist of all objective questions (multiple choice, check-all-that-apply, ordering, matching, etc.) so Blackboard grades them. As soon as they submit their completed quiz, they have access not only to their scores, but also to the right answers and to feedback about the answers that I write when I construct the quiz. (Along the lines of "Answers a and b are incorrect because . . .;" "If you read Rule [x] carefully you will see . . ." etc.). All of this capability is built into the Blackboard software -- it's not the most intuitive system, but I can send basic instructions to anyone who wants them.

Posted by: Suzanna Sherry | Mar 11, 2010 11:14:11 AM

An ungraded midterm is a fantastic idea - gives valuable feedback/tracking without putting the pressure of grades onto it and drawing focus away from other classes. I think this should be much more common place!

Posted by: Law Training Contract | Mar 15, 2010 11:23:17 AM

I like the quiz idea. But it sounds like a lot of work coming up with all of those questions.

Posted by: Bruce Boyden | Mar 15, 2010 1:22:15 PM

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