Midterms are never meant to be easy, and that’s a fair expectation to have as a student. But, at UC Berkeley, the standard of midterm difficulty and rigor has become nearly insurmountable.
Recently, CS 70 students reflected on their most recent midterm, which resulted in an average of 44%. The words used, such as “brutal” and “unbelievable,” paint the ugly picture of academic expectation at UC Berkeley. The exams are extremely hard — so hard that student instructors would struggle to answer every question completely.
Unreasonable exam problems are not unique to computer science. In other fields such as life sciences or humanities, the standard for exam performance is also high. Like clockwork, students discuss their feelings — typically negative ones — toward an exam on Reddit after taking it.
UC Berkeley is undoubtedly known for its academic rigor. But there should be a limit to how difficult an exam can be. Over time, the frequency of cheating may increase as students may become stressed to stay afloat in their classes. In other scenarios, students may end up dropping a field entirely because of a “weeder” lower-division course that deters them from continuing with their intended degree.
Students come from all different backgrounds with different exposures to certain fields of study before coming to college. Making these lower-division courses — which are often required for major declaration — so demanding places students with no prior experience at a disadvantage. Intrigued students without any prior background are forced to give up on their interests because they simply cannot compete with students with previous exposure.
We believe that an education system should encourage all students to learn freely and use problem-solving skills to attempt exam questions. Designing unsolvable test problems to work through forces students to find every possible way to achieve a good grade. The focus shifts to getting an A on the next midterm, not building up a skill set that they can apply effectively in future jobs or higher education. We believe students reserve the right to learn without a looming cloud of insurmountable stress.
We call on professors and course instructors to make their exams more reasonable. It’s no secret that students at UC Berkeley work extremely hard to study for an exam; the majority of students in a class receiving a grade lower than 50% after weeks of preparation is disheartening and discouraging, to say the least.
Learning is what we are at UC Berkeley for. Students should not feel intensely stressed over an exam or course, worried sick about the next impossible question that arrives at their doorsteps. Let us be tested, but tested fairly.