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What do weed-out courses really do for us?

Should an undergraduate student die for what they love? Do we love our majors enough to die for them? Are these really questions that 18-year-olds should be asking themselves?

Okay, maybe dying is a bit extreme, but the intensity of some of UMBC’s 100- and 200-level courses are taking a toll on underclassmen.

Most UMBC students are familiar with the difficulty of weed-out courses. For freshmen, the stress of living on their own and being away from home is already high. Moreover, the near impassibility of weed-out courses required by a major only increases the stresses piled on top of their plates.

The purpose of a weed-out course is to select students for specific majors as efficiently as possible in order to keep job outlook prestigious and salaries high. As stated by an anonymous undergraduate student here at UMBC, “We’re over here trying hard, going to office hours, SI PASS sessions, we went over all the questions! And we still end up with low grades.”

The reason weed-out courses are so strenuous may be due to the unreasonable perplexity of exam questions, rather than the difficulty of the course material. As Kwame Robertson, a computer science major says, “Bio 141 is too easy. The average on the tests should be like a 40. [Exams] test the students on how well they do on tests and not the content.”

Robertson’s view articulates an excellent point. If students are so caught up on the limited material that is going to be on the tests, then they do not end up learning the entirety of the course’s main content. They focus on simply memorizing the information thrown at them instead of understanding the material as a whole.

Exams should challenge students, but they should also reward them for trying. If weed-out course examinations were kept at the same level, or raised to a higher level, but professors gave more leeway in their grading by employing a non-competitive curve, then maybe actual learning would occur.

To foster well-rounded learning, professors cannot have impossibly difficult classes and grading systems. They either have to make the courses less grueling, as suggested by the anonymous student or make the grading system less punishing, as suggested by Robertson.

It is prudent that we have smart and educated people employed in the STEM fields. Science and technology are integral parts of the way in which we live and having members of our society that actually understand them is important for our survival.

Students should feel encouraged to take STEM courses, not disgusted by the responsibility and the looming fear of failure associated with these courses. Making introductory STEM courses more similar to other introductory college courses is essential, not only for the students required to take it, but for the good that extends throughout our society as UMBC’s students begin to enter the world on their own.