I want to start this post with a quick exercise. Looking at the timeline of the semester below, think about what you consider to be the middle of the term.
Are we in the middle of the term at the end of October? What about the beginning of November? I think so. The area I marked is about the size of my thumb.
Now my biology professor must have REALLY big thumbs, because I had my first midterm last week.
The Oxford English Dictionary’s definition of a midterm is: “the middle of a period of office, an academic term or a pregnancy,” or “an exam in the middle of an academic term” (the second one obviously being the relevant one here).
The fact that my professor gave a midterm in the last week of September implies that the middle of the term lasts over two months:
That’s 108 days. The Midterm was on the 27th of September, 23 days after the first day of classes. That means we’re at about 21% of our term. Does that put us at the middle of the term? No. It puts us at the beginning of the term.
Calling these examinations ‘tests’ or ‘midterms’ might not strike you as a significant issue—what’s in a name right? But the term ‘midterm exam’ increases your heart rate, causes perspiration, and reduces sleep. ‘Test’ doesn’t.
Calling an examination on the first 6 lectures a ‘midterm’ is like calling campus safety ‘the police’—it just causes unnecessary anxiety (they don’t even have guns!) I’m sure if Columbia gave us ‘tests’ instead of ‘midterm exams’ we wouldn’t consistently be one of the most stressful colleges in the nation.
Jan Leibbrandt is a sophomore who didn’t actually use an envelope for his calculations because nobody sends letters these days. He also left out the Oxford comma in the Oxford English Dictionary’s definition of ‘midterm’ on purpose.
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