Although it feels like yesterday I was printing my syllabus and finding my classes, the reality is we are already six weeks into the semester and that means midterms are coming fast. If you’re like me, that thought may be a little scary. However, after taking tests for a very long time, I have three suggestions to offer to make the coming barrage easier.
Highlight or take notes as you read
While the best way to prepare for midterms is to keep up with readings and assignments, in reading-intensive courses, this can feel impossible. Reading a chapter once can feel like an achievement and the thought of revisiting the chapter as you study is daunting.
Taking notes is one of the best ways to handle this. The reality is that even a 30+ page chapter can usually be condensed to four or five pages of notes, and it’s a lot more encouraging to review five pages than an entire chapter. Also, rewording the chapter’s concepts in your own words can help you judge what material is giving you trouble.
For those who haven’t opened the book all semester, start applying this technique now. Even if you’re short on time, take careful notes as you study and it will ultimately save effort.
Teach the material to family or friends
While you don’t want to be obnoxious, teaching or sharing something is a great way to gauge whether you’ve mastered or understood what you’re learning in class. If your friends or family ask good questions, this can also help you think about the concept in different ways. Finally, by bringing what you’ve learned in class into your life in different ways, you are creating more memories and cognitive links, making the information easier to draw on during an exam.
If you’re with fellow students, this can even be a mutual exchange. Share with your friends and let them teach you before their exams, and you should all do better when the exams come.
While this may sound trite, it is probably the most helpful thing you can do. Of course, there is a healthy level of stress that motivates people to study in the first place. However, I’m sure we all know someone who can barely function before an exam, and I can recall times where I felt like I was powerless before an exam. At the end of the day, though, my worst fears never materialized, and I wish now I’d kept a clearer head back then.
Most of the time, things are not as bad as we fear, and regardless, all the nerves in the world won’t get you a better score.
The best thing you can do for yourself is to prepare to the best of your ability, get plenty of rest, and then put it out of your mind when you’ve done all you can. Midterms are important and we should all strive to get the best scores possible, but panic will ultimately have the opposite effect.
Business communication graduate student
Printed in the 10/19/16 issue.