I’m not sure how you can call an exam a “midterm” when it’s scheduled for two weeks before the end of term. Unfortunately, in my case, I have two of these “midterms” to write this week.

Actually, I wrote one of these “midterms” today. It was fairly straightforward and a fair exam. I applaud my professor for testing us on material that we were taught. Often, I find that professors take great pride on assembling exams that question students on material that was not covered in class. I’ve also seen professors base a lot of their exams on material they’ve taught poorly. I remember in one case in undergrad, when a prof ran out of time at the end, and had to teach the last component in two days. A sane and understanding educator would have shown restraint during the exam and would have not emphasized the rushed material. Yet, when the final exam came, he decided to make 20% of the marks based on questions from the last component. The funny thing is, I don’t attribute this outrage to him being a mean person. I think he was showing signs of dementia in all honesty.

So, I have another exam on Thursday and I can assure you it will not go as well as today’s exam. The professor in that class hasn’t made any sense to us for about a month now. He slaps on transparency after transparency, full of puzzling equations and formulas, most of which he glosses over, as if we were discussing thing like, “the sky is blue” or “it gets cold in the winter”. We don’t even have enough time to copy any of it down, since he appears to be keeping to a rhythm of sorts. To top it off, we don’t have copies of the transparencies, so no one has any record of what he’s been saying. I have my suspicions that had I skipped the last four weeks of class, I’d be no further behind in my understanding than I am now.

Knowing how things work and how university practices go, I bet he’ll base the majority of the exam on the material covered in the last month. I haven’t failed a midterm since first year, but this looks like a good candidate for a repeat.

Which brings me to a larger question. Shouldn’t the biggest obstacle to learning just be the material itself? That is, the only thing standing in your way of mastering the material, should be just understanding the concepts being presented. Yet I find there are a host of different problems students face in learning. Beyond just the material, it’s the professors themselves that are obstacles. At times, it appears they’ve analyzed the most efficient way to teach a concept and then done the complete opposite.

Many a time, after struggling to understand something, and finally reaching the summit of that concept, I’ve realized there were numerous, better ways to have taught that. Inherently, some profs are better researchers than educators, that much is clear. I’m beginning to think that faculties should be divided into two groups: those who have exceptional teaching skills and those who should be left alone in their labs.

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