Ninety minutes, precisely 5,400 seconds. That is how long high school students at New Haven’s Hopkins School are given for each midterm exam, a final chance to display their knowledge from the term.

All over the world students take midterms immediately before or after their winter break. How much stress are students facing, and what advantages are there to taking exams before or after the break? Many students all over the world face anxiety as exams near. Is there a right answer to whether exams should be held before or after winter break or is it simply a personal administrative choice? Do exams in general represent how a student has absorbed material from the past term?

It is upsetting that because I am not a ‘test-taker’, 1.5 hours of a single day can disregard so much of the work I have done,” said Malini Parikh, a sophomore at Hopkins.

Hopkins is holding midterm exams from Tuesday, Jan. 16 to Thursday, Jan 19. 

Parikh expressed the stress exams can bring, noting her own experience of feeling pressure and test anxiety.

“We all have different styles of learning and exams don’t always represent our understanding, and sometimes do the opposite. Many students, including myself, experience test anxiety that becomes especially apparent during term exams,” she said. “The pressure of being in an exam environment can impact my ability to recall information. Though I study continuously leading up to exams, I feel increased stress and pressure from the amount of content packed into a one-and-a-half-hour test.”

Parikh also said that she feels exams do not represent the diligent work she has put into her classes.

She noted that it felt important for teachers and students alike to understand that knowledge of a subject might not be represented accurately by one final exam or test.

“Up until exams, my assignments have shown that I have a good grasp on the material and have understood it,” Parikh explained. 

Bradford Czepiel, an English teacher at Hopkins, discussed how the effectiveness of exams can fluctuate depending on “the format of the exam and the teacher’s and the student’s preparation leading up to the exam.” 

He also mentioned the benefits exams can provide.

“There is value in having to sit and deliver. That ability to be intensely productive is a skill, and the preparation leading up to that requires and develops a set of skills that also is valuable,” he explained.

Czepiel added that having to “sit and deliver” is important not only for students taking exams but as a general life skill.

Regarding whether exams ought to be before or after winter break, Czepiel said that he is “a fan of exams before winter break so that the break is indeed a break. But, he noted, that shift might require the school year to start earlier so the fall and spring semesters are balanced.

Micah Betts, a sophomore at Hopkins School, echoed Czepiel’s opinion on post-break exams. 

“Can you allow your students to take a break and rest and then allow them to go back and relearn the material?” Betts asked. “If you take exams after break teachers have to realize most students will not continue studying.” 

Betts noted that it may not be as efficient to have students rest over break and then attempt to relearn material ahead of exams.

Betts also acknowledged that there is no way to understand each student’s circumstances fully.

“You can’t expect everyone to show up to school with eight hours of sleep and a good meal,” he argued. “Exams represent a meritocracy where we expect everyone to have the same level playing ground and therefore assume an exam is a fair way to measure learning.”

Betts noted that some students have access to external help in the form of tutoring, while others could be overwhelmed by extracurriculars. A student who may have worked hard throughout the term may not do as well on exams due to test anxiety or other unforeseeable reasons. 

Many variables can influence a student’s ability to do well on an exam. Taking midterms before or after winter break impacts students in different ways, but students and faculty seem to agree that there is no one right answer to that decision. For many students, 90 minutes may not represent their work. Every student amounts to more than those 5,400 seconds.