In-person midterms are preferred over online tests, students say

Nov. 1, 2021, 9:23 p.m.

Amid the height of midterm season, many students said they appreciate the in-person test-taking environment and find it easier to concentrate and maintain motivation in comparison to last year’s virtual format.

These in-person midterms come after over a year of online examinations due to the COVID-19 pandemic, during which many students completed assignments from their homes. While away from campus, students faced unique difficulties and distractions, ranging from unreliable internet access to a dearth of quiet spaces to work.

For most students, these midterms are the first in-person exams they have taken since winter quarter of the 2019-2020 school year. Despite the challenges posed by the transition back to in-person instruction, for many students, the switch back to in-person midterms is a positive change.

Nora Yang ’24, who lived off campus for the entirety of her freshman year, said that it was difficult for her to concentrate on her tests at home because there were “so many other things to do, especially with a test that is not timed.” Now that she lives on campus and in-person midterms have resumed, she said that “it was sort of nice to be back in that headspace, where you just have one thing to think about, and you have to completely focus.” Before this quarter, Yang had not taken an in-person exam since her senior year of high school.

For students who have been on campus before the start of the pandemic, such as Bill Wermuth ’23, returning to a more traditional, in-person setting for exams has been a welcome shift.

“I much rather enjoy an in-person setting for midterms,” Wermuth said. “I feel as though I get distracted easily when I’m online.”

Most of the online examinations administered during the remote learning period were open-note, allowing students to refer to outside sources such as their textbooks while taking tests. In contrast, many professors have prohibited students from using their notes while taking in-person exams. For Aayan Patel ’25, this change caused him to shift his approach to studying for exams.

“You definitely have to study harder and in more depth rather than knowing surface-level details or where to locate specific information,” Patel said. “It kind of helped train my brain to get back into that mental state, specifically, where you have to recall information.”

One of the most significant concerns for students returning to campus this quarter has been the transmission of COVID-19. Many midterms take in place large lecture halls, with hundreds of students gathering in the indoor spaces. Even so, the precautions taken by the University to minimize transmission of COVID-19 — including requiring vaccines, indoor mask-wearing and regular COVID-19 testing — have convinced some students that in-person test-taking is safe.

Wermuth, for example, said that Stanford’s precautions to eradicate COVID-19 from campus have been very effective, referencing the University’s weekly student case counts. He added that COVID-19 precautions enforced in his classes help keep students safe. Students sit more than three seats away from other students in his classes, especially during midterms, and everyone wears a mask, according to Wermuth.

Still, there are some classes that are not quite as COVID-19 conscious, due to class size. In some classes, students have to sit side-by-side due to limited classroom space. 

Looking ahead, students expressed interest and support in catalyzing a return to an in-person academic and test-taking environment for all classes on Stanford’s campus. “I want to get back to the feeling of normalcy here at Stanford as quickly and comfortably as possible,” Wermuth said. 

Cassidy Dalva '25 is a News Managing Editor at The Stanford Daily. A prospective economics major from Los Angeles, California, Cassidy enjoys baking, playing pickleball, and spending time outdoors in her free time. Contact her at [email protected].

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