‘Getting thrown right back in was a lot’: Students overwhelmed by return of in-person midterms

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Photo: Jiaxin Xu

Students sit in a computer lab.

By Vivi Smilgius and Bailey Allen

This year, students are facing the first relatively-normal, in-person midterm exam period since the outbreak of the pandemic—a jarring, even stressful change of pace for students and professors alike. 

After following a hybrid model for the 2020-2021 academic year, Emerson students are experiencing workloads comparable to those before the pandemic, some for the first time. For many, the adjustment is taking a toll on mental health.

“[Midterms are] more stressful now because my only college experience was [during] COVID,” sophomore visual and media arts major Anthony Paladino said. “It was a weird transition to act like [in-person testing] was normal, when to me, it wasn’t.”

Paladino, like most other sophomores, experienced Emerson midterms online or partially online last year. Yet for first-year students like visual and media arts major Leah Boisvert, Emerson’s midterms are a stark difference from the relative lack of exams administered during their final year of high school.

“This one was really stressful, especially since I didn’t have midterms last year because of COVID,” Boisvert said. “Getting thrown right back in was a lot.”

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Boisvert’s concerns reflected a broader trend among members of the first-year class. 

First-year student Lucile Lyon, who deferred her acceptance last year, said she was adjusting to in-person exams after not having to experience them for an entire year.

“This is the first time I actually took a test on paper [in months],” she said. “I was definitely kind of thrown off because I’m so used to taking tests online.”

First-year Jasmine Bonds, on the other hand, welcomed the opportunity to take tests in-person again, adding that her midterm experience went smoother than she’d expected.

“It wasn’t as stressful as I thought it was going to be because it was about things I was interested in,” Bonds said.

But Bonds seems to be in the minority. Even professors have taken note of the stress midterms put on their students. Mneesha Gellman, a political communication professor, said she noticed students struggling to balance this semester’s increased workload.

“I do believe that students are really having a hard time this semester, and I have definitely seen an increase in the number of requests for extensions,” Gellman said. “I do absolutely see the stressors of the pandemic playing out in the classroom in terms of students’ wellbeing that is seen in a variety of ways.”

The concern for her students’ mental health and wellbeing has caused Gellman, who teaches both Human Rights and Collective Action courses, to omit midterms from her curriculum.

“I don’t think I’ve administered an exam for the last four or five years, in part as a response to trying to have as inclusive pedagogy as possible,” she said. “I feel like exams increase student stress levels; also, because of accommodations, there are divides in terms of students that have accommodations getting more time than students that don’t. I really tried to structure my classes in a way where exams are not part of the assignment structure at all.”

Instead, Gellman said she relies on a “sequence of writing assignments” throughout the semester for students to combine into a short research paper around the time of midterms. 

“Students know about it from the moment they start the class in the fall and they really work at their own pace to research a topic of their choosing that is connected to the classroom,” she said.