Can someone point me to papers indicating whether or not a midterm is an important part of a course?

I suspect I can find many 'experiential anecdotes' that midterms are good/bad/moot but I would really like some concrete evidence (papers?) that a midterm is a useful assessment element in a mathematics/computer science course.

In particular, what would happen if I replaced midterms with many small quizzes? Do we get a change in student learning?

EDIT: If it helps, I am at a Canadian University and at our institution, a course grade break down routinely consists of 10% assignments, 30% for a 2 hour test assessment (a midterm in the middle of a course) and a 2.5 hour 60% final exam assessment after the course lecturing. These percentages fluctuate a bit from course to course but are relatively stable. I'm thinking about removing the midterm and redistributing the weight to more quizzes, assignments and other components like this.

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    $\begingroup$ Adding a few sentences of context to question would improve it - what is the midterm and what is the default state without it? Alternatively, adding relevant country tags would help. The question is already fine as is, though. $\endgroup$
    – Tommi
    Feb 26, 2019 at 6:02
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    $\begingroup$ I agree with @Tommi Brander as I also do not know what a midterm is. Sure, it was used a lot when I was in college, but the term usually meant of the 3-5 major tests given during the semester, the one that occurred about midway in the semester, and no additional grading weight was given to this test over any of the other major tests given during the semester. On the other hand, "final exam" was almost always (in the U.S.) treated differently: it was weighted more (and usually this had to be specified in the syllabus) and a specific time slot to give it was specified by university regulations. $\endgroup$ Feb 26, 2019 at 7:25

1 Answer 1


"Cheating Lessons" by James M. Lang argues (and has many references to back up) the claim that smaller, more frequent, lower stakes assessment both improves student learning outcomes and decreases the frequency of cheating.

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    $\begingroup$ amazon.com/gp/product/0674724631 $\endgroup$
    – Jasper
    Feb 25, 2019 at 21:41
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    $\begingroup$ If you change the frequency (and probably the content) of the assessment process, how to you demonstrate that the "improved outcomes" are real? It is sort of obvious that students are more likely to remember something for a week in order to get marks in a test, compared with having the remember the same thing for a year and take an end-of-year exam. But the weekly tests by themselves don't mean they remember anything at the end of the year. $\endgroup$
    – alephzero
    Feb 25, 2019 at 23:45
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    $\begingroup$ @alephzero I would recommend reading the book. Basically more frequent assessment --> more study with less anxiety --> greater retention in long term. Studies are cited which show superior long term retention when compared with students learning the same content but with fewer assessments. $\endgroup$ Feb 26, 2019 at 1:21
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    $\begingroup$ @alephzero: In addition to OP's recommendation of "Cheating Lessons", I will also recommend the book "Making it Stick: The Science of Successful Learning". One of the lessons of that book is that frequent assessment forces students to retrieve knowledge from their memory which further solidifies that knowledge in their memory for long term retention. Moreover, you can have the assessments build on themselves so that, for instance, in week 5, your assessment is asking students about their knowledge from the first 5 weeks of the course, not just the most recent week. $\endgroup$ Feb 26, 2019 at 23:15

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