Towards the Finish Line

A couple friends and I sat in Susie’s one day last term, snacking on freshly baked cookies and discussing the various aspects of our lives. While one friend rambled on about the problems in her love life, another friend blurted out something that struck me: “Forget boys, I want the H.” It took our table a little time to realize that “the H” she wanted was an honor grade for midterms. It was midterms week, and her comment resonated with me. While most of my friends laughed and returned to the conversation, I thought about the comment and about how much stress midterms can cause Andover students. Though students rarely have designated midterm tests, midterm grades, more often than not, produce some anxiety. Students might feel that midterms firmly set their final grade in the range of a danger, a check or an honors mark. Suppose “the H” isn’t there; some might feel a sense of hopelessness and decide to surrender to the inevitable. The trouble is, those grades are neither permanent, nor always accurate: some teachers decide not to give honors marks at midterms just to prevent students from becoming too comfortable. I remember during the beginning of my first term at Andover when my teacher mentioned something about midterms. When I raised my hand and asked when midterms were, he replied very seriously, “Well, Meera, midterms are at the middle of the term.” Annoyed, I tried to ask when midterms were for that specific term. I got the same response. Though I never truly figured out whether or not my teacher was being serious, I like to think that he was trying to send me a message. Midterms, out of all the things going on in our lives, should not be what we worry about. So why do we have midterms at all? I remember how shocked I was when I received my first set of midterms. By the first month of my Junior fall, I had believed that my transition into the Andover lifestyle was complete and that I had developed a good work ethic. Some of those midterm marks, however, suggested otherwise. Later, a teacher explained to me that the reason she had given me a lower midterm grade was not to discourage me, but rather to motivate me to work harder. Since midterm grades do not count for anything, my teacher believed that I should not stress out about them. After thinking about those comments, I realized that my teacher was right. By giving us feedback on our performances in the classroom, teachers can encourage us students to work a little harder where necessary or let us know we’re doing well when we happen to be on the right track. Regardless, midterms should not be something to stress about. Students shouldn’t work harder that week just to see a higher mark. We should merely view them as a pit stop: a place to hit the brakes momentarily and evaluate our study habits and commitments before we speed off toward the finish line. We should look for sources of error and find ways to improve. We should not consider midterms as if they were our final judgment, but rather embrace them as constructive feedback. Midterms are essential to improvement, which, after all, is what Andover is all about. Meera Patel is a two-year Lower from Andover, MA.