Midterms can be a shock

Most students worked hard to get into university and have been successful in high school — very successful. So why do midterms shock many of these capable students? After some discussions with first year professors, one thing that occurred to me was the level of evaluation. In high school teachers design their test — I did at least — on curriculum objectives. Tests were planned to have a certain percentage of the marks on knowledge & understanding, thinking & investigation, communication and application. More difficult application questions were left to the end of the tests. If the question was more than what is demanded in the curriculum, it might even be a bonus. Tests were straightforward and typically students had plenty of time to finish.

I believe there are many students in first year who continue to study — especially for the first set of midterms — at a high school level. They feel confident that they understand the material and head into their midterms but are then surprised. The straightforward knowledge questions are not there. The exam delves straight into applications and questions that demonstrate a higher understanding. With limited time, students do not have the luxury to spend extra time on each question. Many students find it difficult to leave a question and move forward. These students have always answered — at least attempted to answer — each question. It is an adjustment to leave questions blank and not actually be able to finish an exam.

I am not suggesting having university-level examinations in high school, but I wonder if we should attempt some “eye-opening” strategies.

  1. Label bonus or application questions as “university level”. Point out that this type of question will probably make up the majority of university examinations.
  2. Have some tests with time limits.
  3. Reach out to local first-year university chemistry instructors for tips and recommendations for questions at this level. Our outreach coordinators love when this happens!

I imagine many high school teachers are trying strategies to prepare students for the adjustment to first year. What are you doing to prepare students for first year evaluations? Share your ideas with Chem 13 News readers. Email me, Jean Hein, editor.