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Have “semester exams” truly disappeared?

While students and staff alike debate over the benefits and drawbacks of MCPS’s new grading system, one universally popular aspect of the change was the elimination of final exams. As we move into January, a time usually filled with chaotic studying and exhaustive testing, students are looking forward to some relief from the traditional high stress levels that accompany exams. But are students truly able to relax more?

As a student who anticipated a test-free end to the semester (besides the routine unit tests or projects), I was surprised when a handful of my teachers assigned summative assessments during the last week of the quarter. Not only do these tests closely resemble past semester exams, they also account for a significant part of our second quarter grade. Perhaps expecting no exams was a bit hopeful, but I still would have appreciated more time to study for these cumulative tests.

Despite my dread for exams, I appreciated exam weeks since I had ample time to review and study. At least with past exams, I knew they were coming from the beginning of the school year and had adequate time to prepare in advance. “I don’t have time to study without an exam week,” commented Richard Montgomery sophomore Gillian Smith. “I needed that time where I had time off school so I could focus on learning everything in the semester to the best of my capability.”

These tests came out unexpectedly for many of my peers, some of whom needed to boost their second quarter grade higher than first quarter in order to earn their desired semester grade. Now that these tests count towards a quarter grade, second and fourth quarters are innately more challenging than first and third. Both quarters are not counted equally towards the final semester grade as intended.

Instead of less stress towards the end of the semester, many students struggle to balance studying for the cumulative assessment in addition to regular coursework. This ends up directly affecting their performance on these tests and, consequently, their quarter and semester grades. While this does not neutralize the added grade inflation from the new grading system, it does poke a hole in the attempt to make both quarters count equally towards students’ final grades.

Many classes should test students regularly to help them recall information, especially AP courses that will eventually demand an incredibly dense cumulative exam in May. Semester exams are a helpful tool to improve performance on APs, as well as verify that students have thoroughly learned the course material; however, I would have appreciated more warning that these tests would still persist despite the altered grading system. The county’s implication of this new grading system, while altogether beneficial, still needs fine-tuning when it comes to cumulative assessments in order to assist students’ stress levels and performance.

Article by MoCo Student staff writer Isabella Levine of Richard Montgomery High School

About The MoCo Student

In 2012, Student Member of the Board of Education John Mannes created a countywide press network to help build a conduit to share fresh and relevant information written by youth to the wider Montgomery County student body.

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