An Examination of Mid-Term Exams

By: Sam Bloomberg and Greg Diette

Gilman’s new exam schedule brought with it another year of struggle to find the perfect balance of teacher and student interests. From the workload before exams to the disappointing reading day schedule and beyond, this year’s schedule was met with frustration throughout the student body.

Gilman teachers took the no test rule for the week before exams about as seriously as Gilman students take the dress code: the rules are clear but easy to break. With the addition of pre-break exams, the tri-school implemented a new policy to allow students to focus on their upcoming exams as opposed to their humanities classes. Head of the Upper School Mr. Robert Heubeck explained, “[For the] week prior to exams, we ask that teachers not give major assessments. We ask that homework be minimal. We also ask that two days before the exams, meaning Thursday and Friday, there not be assessments at all.”

Although these rules were clear and in place to help Gilman students, many teachers across the tri-school did not abide by the guidelines. A recent Gilman News survey of over 100 Gilman Upper School students revealed that 48% of them received at least one test during the week prior to exams. In addition, the same survey showed that 29% of students had to complete papers and 23% had to finish projects in classes that did not have exams prior to winter break. Despite the fact that the majority of Gilman’s teachers listened to the new exam rules, these statistics clearly indicate a problem. Whether it stems from a lack of communication from the Administration or simply negligence from the teachers, it is clear that the policy implemented by the Administration, in this case, is not being followed.

Mr. Heubeck was unaware that nearly half of all Gilman students were assigned work and given assessments in violation of the new policy. He urges students to come talk to him when future problems arise, stating, “If a teacher is giving a test the week prior to exams then they should not be doing that. And I would hope that if students are given a test then they need tell their advisor or me so we can make sure the spirit of the direction is being followed.”

Matt Smith (‘19) explained the difficulties of the situation, such as making sure the teachers kept to the rules. He said, “For me, I did not think that going to to Mr. Heubeck or other teachers would really help anything. Honestly, that is one of the biggest problems we need to address; teachers always find a way to get around the rules. By using all sorts of excuses, they can really just pile on work.”

This is not the only issue before exams which needs to be fixed. This year, Gilman put forth the least effective Reading Day schedule to date, consisting of mini classes of a normally-scheduled day, then a time to meet with teachers for your exams. Out of the many flaws in this schedule, two stand out. Firstly, many students during the mini schedule did not have any classes in which they had exams. Therefore, they were wasting studying time doing busy work for their other teachers. Secondly, during the two-hour period that would have been used to meet with teachers, each teacher’s students met at the same time and location. This chaos is not a way to induce productive studying. Mr. Heubeck says this particular schedule was made by the tri-school as a whole and “[They have] to agree on certain things. The agreement was a half day of classes and a half day of review… this was [what we agreed upon].”

A better alternative to this schedule would be the schedule from three years ago. The schedule was forty-five minutes of odd-day classes, followed by first period of even day, lunch for thirty-five minutes, and forty-five minutes of second and third period of the even day schedule. After all this, there was nearly two hours of extra review time. This whole schedule was an optional day during which teachers would be able if a student desired to meet with them.  In an email sent to the student body, Mr. Heubeck said, “Attendance will not be taken and you are not required to be at all the sessions. If you don't need/want review in a particular class, you do not have to attend the session. After 1:35, your teachers will be available for extra help sessions or further review.”

While this schedule was made while we still had five or six exams, it worked the best for us, the students. Not only did it allow us to have flexibility in our day, but it also allowed us to maximize our studying where we needed it most. Jack Bowmaster (‘18) rebuked the reading day schedule, commenting, “[This schedule] destroys what reading day is truly about: the ability to study in your own personal way. I miss being able to form study groups or see teachers in small groups. My review sessions were comprised of 4 different math classes of different courses jammed into a small room and a chemistry lab filled with people trying to ask a billion different things without the teacher having time to properly respond to one student at a time.”

The exam schedule this year also leaves students with an unreasonable amount of work from the humanities courses that they take. Bowmaster had issues with this, saying that while he liked the two exams before break, “the projects after break resulted in several tests and quizzes from my math and sciences course as well as the projects from my humanities. The teachers just did not listen to the rules, so they intruded on the other classes’ [project] time.”

The same issue that students encountered with workload prior to winter break continued during the humanities assessment period, as math and science teachers found loopholes in the “no test” policy to give significant assessments called “quizzes” that were comparable to tests.

At the same time, this schedule is detrimental to basic pedagogy. A majority of teachers use quizzes to gauge the knowledge of their class and which students need more attention. If you ask teachers not to assess their students, you are effectively asking them not to teach. The schedule currently leaves no room for assessments, so when teachers try to squeeze them in, students have no time to prepare.

According to Mr. Heubeck, this schedule needs a change: “We have to revisit the reading day schedule, there is a better way to do it.”

In order to fix this debacle, Gilman should resort to a five-or six-exam schedule that takes place the week leading up to break. Another possibility would be to not have a week of exams, and to have each class have individual exams at some point during the semester. With this format, it would still allow students to use Winter Break as a true break, it would take away the confusion of teachers, and it would let the teachers do their job.