Excessively long essays assigned at the beginning of a university/college term (or semester) by professors who have nothing better to do but create a mass of work for their students to do and for their T.A.'s to mark. Essentially the easiest way for the prof to have each student separately graded without having to do any work themself. Some term papers are research essays, which entail huge amounts of time spent in the library searching the book stacks and the e-journals trying to find appropriate sources for ones god forsaken topic that couldn't be a more rare one if hell froze over.
Term papers are basically a regurgitation of all of the research one has done or all of the lectures they've attended. Rarely does a paper end up being original since it is all based on something that has been previously published.
Most term papers are left until the night before they are due by students who have been procrastinating all semester and have realized they now have less than 24 hours to gain anywhere from 25-50% of their overall mark in that class.
Term papers are known as the bain of a student's existence. They are not favored by anyone in their right mind and some students actually choose to go into the faculty of science, which means they have to take math/calculus courses, to avoid having to write these lengthy essays.
student 1: man, Im gonna be up all night trying to write this damned term paper!
student 2: oh, I finished mine last month, it was a brutal one- good luck!