Midterm day – or, what do you do when you’re giving an exam?

Midterm day is here.  This means two things.  The first is that I get to find out if the students have learned enough about the complexities and overall narrative of American religious history before 1790 that they can ask good questions when we start researching in the newspaper archive next week.

The second is that I get to spend an hour and a half watching people write while I just generally pass the time.  What are the rules of giving an exam?  I’ve done an informal survey.  Apparently, one should not put one’s feet on the desk or eat, according to certain voices.  Personally, I find it a good time to grade (I think the same thing about airplanes, by thew way), but that seems in poor taste during an exam, like I just can’t wait to get my dirty little red hand on their papers.  I know no professor who is eager to do that.  The most popular answer for what to do is to read.  Clearly, the easiest thing is to bring a book, but this raises the question of what to read, about which there is less agreement.  A weighty academic tome, a novel, or a newspaper?  The answer seems to have to do with your relationship with your students.  And what is the etiquette of checking your phone during an exam?

On the upside, I’ve never had students comment on what I do during exams in student evaluations.

Postscript: I read some things I had to comment on that weren’t exactly grading, but with a blue pen.  I also found a fascinating article in the Guardian that touches on religious freedom, and I read it on my phone.



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