Midterm Grades: How Do They Help?

Sad face (left) happy face (right)It’s that time of year, again, when you’re probably considering – or have completed – the practice of submitting midterm grades. If you are still on the fence of whether or not to do midterm grades, then here are a few points to consider.

What Do I Grade?

In the typical writing course, there should be several completed, written projects to evaluate halfway through the semester or quarter. Total the grades for all completed major papers and take the average of those. For example, if you offered 10 points for the first paper, 15 points for the next, and 20 for the third paper, then your aggregate ‘grade’ total would be 45 points, so far, for the semester. Say a student has received 38 of the 45 points – then the midterm grade is the number of points received divided by the total sum possible. So 38 divided by 45 equals a grade of 84. Use your school’s grading rubric to figure out what letter grade this would be, and enter the proper grade electronically. You may also want to write it down on the physical paper you hand back to the student, in case said student does not know how to find the electronic grade, or he or she forgets to check it.

If you are up for a challenge, you can include points from worksheets, in-class work, attendance and participation, and any other activities for which you give extra credit. But if that seems like a bit of overkill, keep it simple. Grade the big papers, and let students know that those are what determined the midterm grade point average.

Why Should I Do Midterm Grades?

It Gives Support to Achievers

Most students like to keep track of where they are in the grade point region. Especially for freshman or sophomore students, the world of college writing courses is still something to figure out. While they may have a good idea of how it worked in high school, a new school means a new grading system to get used to – and that can cause some anxiety.Student worrying about midterm grade

Giving students a concrete idea of how they are doing in a class gives them some peace of mind and it might also let them know that they are doing the right things. Why not encourage students when you have the opportunity?

It Is a Wake-Up Call to the Complacent

On the other hand, sometimes the midterm grades show that a student has not been doing as well as he or she hoped. The midterm grade, then, becomes a point to consider. How did an individual’s grade get here? Is there a major concept that the student is struggling to grasp, and that he or she is consistently missing in the writing of papers? Or is there something else going on, which should be evaluated; perhaps an event or situation that is not related to the class?

Whether students are trying to achieve a high GPA, or they are just trying to pass the class, they appreciate the information.

Presenting the Grade

The midterm grade is a type of red flag to let the student know that something should be – and still can be – changed before the end of the semester. There will be students who find the grade news discouraging. But those same students also can take the information and use it to prompt themselves to try a different method for reaching writing success.

Whether students are trying to achieve a high GPA, or they are just trying to pass the class, they appreciate the information. While it is unpleasant to find you’re not doing as well as you had thought, it’s better to find out that you can still repair the grade damage before you hit the end of the semester and there is virtually no hope left.Paper plane with ten pencils

How Are Grades Transmitted?

Check with your registrar to find out how grades are issued to students. Many schools use an electronic system, where students can look up their own grades on their college’s website. The letter grades are probably listed next to their semester or quarter course list.

But your school may also use a snail-mail system of getting grades to students. This is definitely a practice worth looking into as, somehow, a letter in the mail is harder to ignore than something buried on a webpage hidden behind password-protected security blocks. If there is bad news, the student knows that it’s for real – not just something nebulous that was mentioned in class. And if it is good news, it’s very likely that the student will want to share that news with friends or relatives. The letter is proof positive that the student has been working.

Midterms: The Real Purpose

Midterm grades are there to help students know how they are doing. It’s a service that you can perform to help them figure out what’s going on and how they are adapting to the world of academia. The easiest way for an instructor to handle midterm grades is for him or her to stay on top of the grading process. Keep a running tally of who has received how many points and on which papers or assignments. This keeps you from having to do a ton of work the week midterms are due.

Plan ahead so that your job is easier. And then let students have the benefit of knowing where they stand. You are giving students the chance to succeed, and that is one of your main goals as a teacher.

Louisa Danielson
Louisa Danielson, B. A., M. A., teaches English composition at Indiana University-Purdue University, Fort Wayne. Articles by Louisa have appeared in a variety of publications, including Dialogue: the Interdisciplinary Journal of Popular Culture and Pedagogy, South Texas English Studies, The Musical Times and several popular publications. When she isn’t writing, teaching, or grading English, Louisa likes to explore classical music.

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