The Mid-Term as a Diagnostic Tool

As the calendar heads toward the end of October, most or all Mid-Terms have been completed and graded. In my classes, the Mid-Term serves four purposes: (1) it is a diagnostic tool for assessing student learning progress to date—and to ensure that it is largely a diagnostic tool, it counts for only 20%- 25% of my course grade; (2) the outcomes are useful in refining student preparation strategies; (3) the results make it possible to refine teaching emphasis for the remainder of the semester; and (4) persistent outcome patterns make it possible to better allocate coverage of course content and focus teaching effort in subsequent semesters.

Typically, my Mid-Term exams contain a survey question. At the same time, data concerning student performance is analyzed for possible insights.

This fall, my survey question asked students when they did the bulk of their studying for the exam. Possible responses were: “Last 24 hours,” Last 2-3 days,” “Last 4-7 days,” and “Continually. Student responses were compared with exam scores. The majority of students focused their study during the last 7 days. 14% indicated that most of their study occurred during the last 24 hours, 46% stated that it occurred during the last 2-3 days, 18% said that most of their study took place during the last 4-7 days, and 21% indicated that they had studied continually throughout the semester.

The following were the outcomes in relationship to student study patterns:


The survey results-test scores outcomes might indicate that cramming was more helpful than study stretched out over moderately longer periods of time, because the material remain fresh in the minds of students. If students budgeted similar amounts of study, but stretched it out over longer periods of time, there would be more opportunity to forget the material. At the same time, consistent with a host of academic literature, regular study throughout the semester appeared to have provided the best learning outcome. An additional survey question related to the total number of hours of study might provide further insight into data.

Each semester, I also provide an optional review session. Review slides are posted on BlackBoard up to a week before the Mid-Term. The slides focus on the most important material covered to date, as well as material students have often found challenging on past exams. Not every slide has an associated question, but every question can be linked to one or more slides. Consequently, the slides represent a valuable review resource. Nevertheless, a number of students often don’t access the slides until the day of the Mid-Term and often only once. That group of students performed worst of all on my Mid-Term this semester.

Students who accessed the BlackBoard review slides for the first time only on the day of the Mid-Term and only once had an average score of 59.4. In addition 75% of those students had scores less than 65. 50% of those students had scores below 60.

Finally, a review of the exam yielded interesting data that might have the potential to differentiate between high-performing and underperforming students. On the exam, content from Chapter 3, which relates to organizational resources and their impact on a firm’s competitive advantages proved decisive. In particular, students who answered two multiple choice questions correctly had a mean score of 85.4 vs. 70.7 for all others (a 1.1σ difference). 44% of those students achieved a score of 90 or above and those students accounted for two-thirds of those receiving 90 or above. At the same time, students who answered two particular multiple choice questions incorrectly had a mean score of 65.6 vs. 78.3 for all others (a nearly 1σ difference). 43% of those students had grades below 60 and those students accounted for three-quarters of those receiving a score below 60. After going back to data from preceding courses, similar but less extreme outcomes were noted. This data hints at the possibility of identifying such students approximately 2 weeks before the Mid-Term, perhaps creating an opportunity for learning intervention to assist those students at risk of doing badly.

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