Midterms. None of us like them, but they’re a sad fact of college life.
Since we can’t avoid them, the question becomes how do you prepare for midterms? They can be so daunting, especially if you have multiple tests back-to-back (*shudders*). However, like everything else in college, I believe that they can be conquered by studying smarter, not harder.
I’m in my final semester in college and am about to graduate with an A+ average. I’m not trying to brag at all–I just want to show you that I do know what I’m doing when it comes to tests. I’ve gotten a pretty solid routine down over the last four years of midterms and exams, and today I want to share it with you to help you survive midterms this winter!
1. Look at the syllabus for information on your midterms
The first step to succeeding on your midterms is to be prepared. I know you looked at your syllabus during syllabus week, but you need to refresh your memory. Take notes on:
- The date of the test
- Length of the test
- Types of questions
- Weight given to different materials
- Specific instructions that the professor gives (for example: I had one professor who said she did not accept anything except for point-form answers and another who would not accept point-form. Same semester. That was confusing.)
One thing though: Make sure to do this more than a week before the test! You’re going to organize your studying strategy around these points, and I’ll show you how in the next sections:
2. Go to classes
If you want to do well on tests, you’ve got to go to class. It’s just a fact, I’m sorry. It doesn’t matter if the prof just reads out of the textbook or if he goes on rants for hours about nothing–GO. Here’s why:
You won’t miss extra information your prof gives
Those rants may seem like they are irrelevant until there’s a 5 point question on it on the test. Also, what your prof discusses in class will likely give you a better grasp on the material so you’ll do better on the midterms for that class.
You’ll learn what kinds of answers your prof wants
Every professor is different. Going to class and listening to your professor speak will give you a better idea of how he/she thinks and what he/she is looking for in terms of answers. Going to class helps you be more equipped to step into your prof’s shoes while you’re writing that test and therefore get a better grade!
Even if the professor just reads from the textbook, makes studying easier!
I had a professor who literally just summarized the textbook. I don’t think he said a single original word the entire semester. But you know what? Reading the textbook was a breeze and my studying time was cut in half, and I knew what parts of the textbook to focus on. I’d much rather be in class than be in a library studying for hours.
3. Make a list of every single thing you need to review
After you’ve read through your syllabus again and gone to your classes, make a list of absolutely everything you need to go over before your midterms. Chapters of the textbook, secondary readings, slides, your class notes, everything. It’s going to look daunting. That’s OK. Just breathe.
Now what you’re going to do is say how much time you will allot to each of those tasks. Going over your slides may take 30 minutes per lecture, for example. Then figure out what you’re going to need to get done every day to get through all of the material before the test.
Now here’s where your syllabus list you made comes into play. How you study should be 100% tailored to that list. For example, if you’re studying for a philosophy midterm where you have to pretty much word vomit as much as you can about a topic, organize your notes as well as you can and then memorize the headings so that when you’re in the exam you’ll be able to remember all of the points you need to hit.
For a multiple choice neuroanatomy course, on the other hand, you’re going to want to rely more on locating areas of the brain and knowing the definitions from the textbook and lectures. That’s why knowing what kind of exam you’re walking into is so helpful while studying.
4. Start reviewing for midterms early
Let me be loud and clear on this one: you cannot expect to do your best if you cram for all of your midterms. If you’ve been consistently studying all semester and/or going to classes and paying attention, you won’t have too much to do before the test, and you’ll have a firmer grasp on the concepts than if you pick up the textbook for the first time 3 hours before the midterm.
My husband had a hell week this semester. Monday-Thursday midterms. One every day for four days straight. But you know what? He was totally able to handle it because he has stayed on top of his work all semester so he only had to review for the tests! Way better than pulling an all-nighter right before the test.
5. Play to your learning style
Do you learn best taking notes by hand? Or do you do learn better when someone reads your notes to you? Figure out what your learning style and then try one of these based on what yours is:
- Visual learner: colour-code your notes to help jog your memory in the exam
- Aural learner (auditory-musical learner): take the definitions and lists you’re having a hard time learning and put them to a song or a beat. It sounds crazy but it really works! (I used to memorize competitively–trust me on this one). Also, reading your notes out loud can really help, or listening to your lectures again if you record them.
- Verbal learner: Well you’re lucky. College is kind of made for you. Read the book.
- Physical (kinesthetic) learner: pace and use hand gestures while you’re studying.
My learning styles are aural and kinesthetic, fun fact!
The great thing about using your learning style is that it helps you study smarter, not harder, helping you get more effective studying done in less time.
6. Use flashcards
I cannot praise flashcards enough. They are the college student’s life saver. I’ve mentioned this a number of times, including when I talked about the best apps for college students, but flashcards is what will bring you to the next level in school. They helped bring me from an A- average to an A+ average in a single semester, even when I was taking philosophy courses, which you wouldn’t normally think to use flashcards with.
Quizlet is one of my favourite flashcard tools, and having physical flashcards is helpful, too. Find what works for you. And learn to love flashcards.
7.Take notes on your midterms
After you’ve finished your midterm, pull out a piece of paper and write down everything you remember about it. Were the multiple choice questions general or nit-picky? Were the short-answer questions applied, or was it more fill-in-the-blank where if you didn’t know the word you were screwed? Were there a lot of lists?
This will help you be even more prepared for your next midterms and the exam for that class. Knowing what to expect helps you be even more prepared next time than you were the first time!
Those are my best tips for studying for midterms. Ultimately, it all comes down to working hard all semester instead of just cramming at the end. I hope this helps you!
What are your best tips for studying for midterms?
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