We’re getting close to midterms, so I wanted to talk about how to study for an exam. In a previous post, I gave some general study tips to help you throughout the semester. This post isn’t about studying, although if you have kept up on your studying, your exams will be MUCH easier. This is about the test itself. The midterm exam is worth doing – it’s a big chunk of your grade – and it’s very definitely worth doing right!
An aside before I hit exam day: Acing your exam starts with your mindset. Rather than thinking of the exam as a discrete, apocalyptic event that will occur in the middle of the semester, think of it as the culmination of your studies up to that point in time. Your professor drops clues all through the semester about what’s important and what might be on the exam. Some professors even say “This will be on the exam.” That’s my kind of clue. Putting the exam in context – even if it’s high-stakes from a grade standpoint – helps remove some of the dread. Yes, it’s an exam. Yes, it matters. But, you expected it and prepared for it from day one.
Tips for Test-Taking Success
The night before midterm exam day. Even if you’ve been cramming, you need to get a good night’s sleep. You need to give your brain a chance to unpack and organize all the stuff you crammed in there, as I already told you in the last set of college study tips. DON’T FORGET TO SET YOUR ALARM!
Exam day: You aren’t going to learn anything new the morning of the exam, so don’t bother getting up to cram. If you haven’t covered all the material that will be on the exam, you aren’t going to learn it in an hour or two of frenzied study. You are better off doing a brief review of what you HAVE covered so you can count on getting points for that material. Do eat breakfast.
Get to the midterm exam with some time to spare. Before every exam, I would sit down, close my eyes and do some deep breathing to clear my mind and take the edge off. Deep breathing is not difficult, and is effective. Here’s a site with information on relaxation techniques. I knew a guy who would recite the Litany Against Fear from Dune before every exam. Same idea as deep breathing – relaxation, focus, preparation for the coming trial.
“You may begin.” With those words, the race is on. I powered through my exams by refusing to be linear. I jumped around. If the exam allows it, go through the exam once, doing all the “easy” questions – the ones you know. Then go through the exam again, hitting the “medium” questions – the ones you think you know, but are not so sure about. Finally, go through the exam and take a stab at the hard or impossible questions. I found that working this way serves as a type of review, reminding me of the basic concepts, triggering association with the more advanced concepts, and warming up my brain to hit the hard questions.
Then, if time permits, review your answers. By now, you are immersed in the subject matter, and may be able to find errors that you made earlier. But here’s my advice: Review once or twice. Don’t keep reviewing your answers and second-guessing yourself. You want to catch errors (like filling in the wrong bubble, spelling errors, etc.); you don’t want to undermine your confidence in your answers. Trust your instincts and your studying.
Finally, before you hand in the midterm exam, be sure you have done everything procedural that you are supposed to do – put your name/ID number on the exam, etc. Make sure you get all the credit coming to you!
Simple tips to help you on your midterm exam. Good luck!