How to Get Ready to Study for Midterms

Identifying a suitable study location is one important aspect of getting ready for midterms week.

It’s hard to believe, but Fall 2018 midterms are coming up. Perhaps your professors have begun to talk about past exams or paper topics. Or maybe you’re just looking at some ominous exam dates on the syllabus, poised like a roadblock between you and the glorious week of Fall Break. Friends, I’m here to tell you that it’s going to be alright. Whether these are your first fall midterms or your last (!), this post will share some surefire strategies that you can use to get yourself ready for the first major round of testing of the academic year. While I will share some specific study strategies, I’ll mainly focus on steps you can take to get yourself ready to study. That way, when the studying actually begins, you’ll have greater peace of mind knowing that you have an overall plan for the week.

Conduct an honest assessment of where you’re at in each of your courses.

I suggest reviewing any assignments you’ve gotten back and seeing where your strengths and weaknesses lie. Then ask yourself the following kinds of questions: Which courses are the hardest for me? Am I behind on any readings or assignments? Am I getting lost in each new lecture, or is the material a breeze? The goal of assessing your status in each course is to determine where you’re on track for success, and where you want to improve.

Start thinking about your time allocation.

Are you planning to use any P/D/Fs? If so, you probably don’t want to over-allocate time to that course. (Learning for its own sake is great, but if you’re struggling in a course that will be graded, it seems a bit silly to devote excess time to a Pass/Fail course that you’re doing alright in.) Do you have any major extracurricular commitments the week and/or weekend before midterms week? What about during midterms week itself? These are the questions you’ll want to ask and answer in order to find solid chunks of study time. With these questions answered, I would definitely recommend making a rough schedule of midterms week, noting the times you’ll study and/or complete papers, take-home exams, and other assignments. For help with making such a schedule, check out this post from a former PCUR on Trello, a scheduling app.

Cultivate effective study habits.

This is one of the best things you can do to prepare for this round of midterms, as well as all successive exam periods. Here are some tips on how to do so:

  • Minimize distractions by finding a quiet study location and by placing your phone on “Do Not Disturb” mode (or, dare I suggest, turn it off!)
  • Focus on one subject at a time.
  • Engage with the material by giving it your undivided attention.
  • Take periodic breaks. You know your own needs and preferences best, but I find that getting up to walk around at least once every 1-2 hours helps me stay alert. (Stretching also helps!)
  • Make sure you’re fueling your body properly—nuts, granola bars, fruit, and coffee (in moderation) are all great foods for optimum cognitive functioning. See this article for more brain-friendly foods!
  • Check out this PCUR post, which features even more study strategies from a psychological perspective.

Finally, remember that the best way to prepare for academic success is to embrace a gradual approach to your studies.

You will almost certainly get more out of your college experience if you try to learn a little bit each day, as opposed to cramming massive quantities of information just prior to an exam. This will be more enjoyable, and in my experience, it’s far more effective. (This holds in the short term, too—if you have multiple exams right around the corner, try to rotate your focus from subject to subject every few hours. By ‘walking away’ from one thing, you’ll be able to assess your retention after studying something else.)

I know that it can be intimidating to look at your midterms schedule (and everything between now and then). You might even be questioning whether or not you can get everything done. My advice: start chipping away as soon as you can.(And, even in the unfortunate event that you actually cannot finish all of your assignments on time, I suspect it would help your case to demonstrate that you made a disciplined, sustained effort to do so.) We all have different experiences at Princeton, but midterms are one thing we go through together as a group—so lean on (and be there for!) friends and classmates for support. You got this. We got this. Happy midterms season, Princeton.

–Shanon FitzGerald, Social Sciences Correspondent