Studying For Your First Midterm Exam? Read This.

For you students who are in your very first year of college, the arrival of mid-autumn means you are probably studying for midterms for the first time. This can be a particularly stressful time, because as much as 40–50 percent of your course grade might rely on this one test. Don’t panic! Here are some commonly used strategies that can help get you ready for those upcoming midterm exams.

1. Look in the syllabus or ask your professor the following clarifying questions:

  • How long will the exam be?
  • What types of questions will be asked?
  • Is the test graded on a curve?
  • Will there be an in-class review session, or are other prep sessions available?

2. Review your class notes

  • Determine which concepts are the most important to your professor
  • Find out if there is anything you don’t understand or something seems to be missing (this is especially important if you missed a class!)
  • See if lectures were recorded and posted online

3. Copy and summarize your notes

  • Typing/copying your notes not only allows you to review the information, but it also makes them easier to read
  • Incorporate notes taken while reading the textbook or other supplemental material
  • Summarize your notes to prove that you have an understanding of the material; the condensed information is easier to remember

4. Review previous tests (if applicable)

  • Pay attention to the types of questions: multiple choice, fill-in-the-blank, short answers, longer essays
  • Do questions target general concepts or specific information?
  • Do the questions draw more from the reading material or class lectures/discussions?

5. Determine if you need extra help

  • Go to the school’s tutoring or academic resource center
  • Visit your professor or TA during office hours

6. Make a study plan. Here’s what to include:

  • Re-read assigned textbook pages, as well as any supplemental materials, being sure to pay attention to main ideas, charts, and diagrams
  • Review lectures if they are available online
  • Create your own study guide or complete the one handed out by your professor (if applicable)
  • Quiz yourself using sample questions/chapter quizzes from your textbook
  • If there is a website available for the textbook, use the online materials to help you study: quizzes, flash cards, fill in the blanks, and practice problems
  • Practice solving formulas and equations using problems from the book or your homework website
  • Make a list of questions and bring them to the tutoring center and/or your professor’s office hours
  • Make flash cards (good for foreign language vocabulary, history events, and science key terms)
  • List five short-answer or essay questions you think your professor might ask, and create mini-outlines to prepare for each one
  • Make a diagram or concept map (helpful for organizing general concepts in classes like philosophy, sociology, or psychology)
  • Create a timeline of important events (helpful in history, science, and philosophy classes)
  • Arrange for a study group with classmates

While many of these strategies are time consuming, and not all of them will work for everyone, some of them should resonate and help put you on the path to have a successful midterm exam. If you study and go in prepared, you might even find yourself thankful that the test put so much of your grade at stake.