Students and professors are adjusting to the transition to in-person midterms

‘I genuinely have never remembered feeling this way, and I can’t really pinpoint why,’ said Sasha Hederstrom.

In compliance with L.A. county’s indoor masking mandate, students at the University of Southern California wear face masks while studying at Wallis Annenberg Hall, Los Angeles, CA, on September 9, 2021. (Julia Zara)

After a year of online exams, students and professors are acclimating to the return of in-person midterms this fall.

Although many students would have preferred to take classes on campus last year, one benefit of online classes is the flexibility provided by professors. In certain classes, students could take midterms at any time throughout the day, and some professors even allowed students to use notes during the exam.

“Given the turf, that’s pretty much what they were offering and really, it honestly wasn’t that hard of an experience,” said Adam La Croix, a junior majoring in real estate development. “The open-note kind of made it easy.”

The transition to in-person midterms has affected more than just the format of the exam. Students also have to relearn study habits from before Zoom became the new lecture hall as this semester is many students’ first time taking in-person classes since early 2020.

“With the online [format], a lot of us forgot how to be a student, how to study, how to take tests or just how to go to lectures and actually take notes,” said Jackie Wu, a sophomore majoring in human biology. “And because of that, a lot of us are anxious for our first in-person exams that have already happened or are coming up.”

Wu had an additional concern for the potential spread of COVID-19 during the exams. Students are typically packed into large lecture halls to take midterms, and more students show up to the exams than class because in-person attendance is mandatory.

“Huge lecture halls are shoulder to shoulder and I don’t think anything is disinfected. So, yeah, it does worry me,” Wu said.

Sophomore communications major Sasha Hederstrom felt a large contrast in the academic pressure she experienced transitioning from online to in-person classes.

“I am definitely more stressed this semester than I have been in the past year,” Hederstrom said. “During this time of the semester, I genuinely have never remembered feeling this way, and I can’t really pinpoint why.”

Students’ performance in midterms has also been impacted by their struggles in balancing studying and extracurricular activities, which has been especially difficult after not having to worry about travel time and other features of the in-person environment when classes were online.

“I know from my major we’re in recruiting season right now, so I have to split my time between doing my due diligence with the companies I’m interviewing with and then also studying,” La Croix said.

While many students share a similar difficulty in transitioning to in-person midterms, not all students agree on which format is better at gauging students’ knowledge. La Croix believes in-person midterms do a better job while Hederstrom prefers the online format, which focused more on application of knowledge rather than testing on individual facts.

“I think that learning in a college environment should be less about memorizing specific facts that I do not use on a daily basis and will not ever remember again,” Hederstrom said. “It should be less of regurgitating that onto a multiple choice test.”

Although some students are frustrated with the return to in-person midterms, others are finding it easier to study on campus. Reopening libraries and offering in-person office hours has been a huge relief for some. Brice Carter, a sophomore majoring in computer science, found solace in the reintroduction of in-person supplemental instruction provided by the math department.

“One of the resources that USC has provided is supplemental instruction (SI), and I have been taking advantage of that this semester so far,” Carter said. “What was very helpful was the midterm review hosted by our SI leader. It made me feel a lot more prepared for my [Calculus III] midterm.”

Many professors are trying to create as smooth of a transition as possible for their students. Saba Hamedy, an adjunct professor of journalism at USC, has tried to accommodate students as best as she can to help students adjust to in-person classes and her classes’ in-person midterms. Hamedy has allowed students to miss as much time as they need to recover from illness symptoms to curb the spread of COVID-19, even allowing students to make up the midterm if necessary.

“You have to have awareness that it is kind of a jarring transition to go from at-home and all of a sudden to in-person again,” Hamedy said. “So I think it’s good to acknowledge that everybody might be a little more overwhelmed than usual.”