Key Tips for Midterm Success


As we ease into the new year, midterms are almost upon us. For many students, these tests represent the first major cumulative exams of the school year, and can thus pose a much greater challenge than the regular tests and quizzes that punctuate the academic calendar. To increase their likelihood of success, students must prepare for midterms in a different way. Here are a few things students can do to optimize their midterm preparation.

1. Study in small chunks over a longer period. For a typical test, students may be able to get away with studying one or two nights before the exam. Not so with midterms, which are typically cumulative and feature much more material than does the average exam. Study habits need to be adjusted accordingly; rather than try to absorb all the information during a stressful 6-hour cram session the night before a midterm, students should plan to study in several 45-90 minute chunks over multiple days. Evidence suggests that shorter individual study sessions spread over longer periods result in better retention and comprehension of material—two things students will want for their midterms.

2. Hit the weak areas first. Almost everyone is naturally inclined to do what they know—easy success bolsters confidence. This type of reinforcement, however, is artificial, and won’t end up doing students any good when they’re up against a variety of topics featured on their midterms. When they begin studying for a given midterm, students should start by skimming through their notes (or a syllabus, if they have one), listing out the topics they’ve covered and that will be tested on the midterm, and physically highlighting (or underlining, starring, or circling) topics they know they struggled with based on previous test and quiz scores. Then, they should begin to review these first. This will be tough going, but starting with the most difficult topics should allow for the time to address them properly and comprehensively.

3. Study the right way. I know what you’re thinking here. The fact, though, is that the “right” way to study is highly dependent on how one best learns and on the subject being reviewed. If you’re reviewing math or a mathematically-oriented science like physics or chemistry, you should be redoing the problems from scratch, not just looking them over; if you’re studying history, you should be building outlines or timelines that effectively summarize the details and implications of historical events. Moreover, some students learn differently than others. For example, while index cards might be a great way for one student to remember key literary terms, they may be completely ineffective for others. Students should stick with what works for them individually. For more tips on how to study, see our post about optimizing study time.

4. Seek help. It might be that some students never properly learned certain key topics the first time around. That’s okay! Midterm preparation provides a great opportunity to reinforce fundamental skills by learning material in a different, perhaps more effective way. But this doesn’t happen by itself. Students should seek extra help provided by their teachers; they should ask friends better versed in the subjects for assistance; they can even seek tutoring if they feel some highly individualized, professional attention is in order. Students should never be too bashful to ask for help: it pays dividends!


Do you want to share your midterm prep story? Let us know how you’re getting ready for your midterms by posting in the comments below!


Editor's Note: This post was originally published in January 2018, and has been revised.

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