It's that time: Midterms.
On the plus side, the weather is changing. Football is in full swing and basketball pre-season is quickly approaching. Routines have been established and study groups are formed. And while there are so many other fun things I could be doing, I'm in my room or at the library studying. I'm not alone- Midterms have hit Purdue's campus and are on the horizon for many other schools.
I managed to get through the first round of exams with flying colors... or at least I think so. I stayed focused, organized, and tried out all the different ways in which I could learn the material. Practice exams, flash cards, the usual. But, exams in higher education are nothing like the ones I took in high school. The require days of preparation instead of an hour the night before. I've found that professors really do want you to succeed, and they make resources available as long as you take advantage of them.
For each person, studying and learning is all about trial and error. I need repetition and to hear things be explained, whether by a video, professor, or myself. I have friends who can read things once and have it down. I also know people who can go to lecture once and never think about it again, then go ace the test. Not fair. Regardless of how you learn, there are a few resources that I think everyone can benefit from that I credit my good scores to.
1. Re-Watching Lectures
Like I said, I learn from repetition and audible information. But, I've found this to be so beneficial for studying. Firstly, it gives me a chance to hear what my professor has to say again, since most of my exams are lecture-based. More than that, though, I've found that when I go to lecture I'm learning things for the first time and spend most of my energy getting down the notes and trying to wrap my head around big ideas. When it comes to exam time, I get the big ideas. Hearing the details again makes sure that I haven't missed any examples and helps me make connections to the main ideas. I get a much more holistic view of the material when I go over it again.
2. Use Your TAs
At Purdue, we have this thing called Supplemental Instruction. It's like free tutoring that I relate to an optional recitation. It's taught by students who have taken the class before and know what the exams and stress of the class is like. I get more from these sessions than I do recitation or going to office hours, because I often don't know that I need help unless it's brought up to me and I realize that I don't know it at all. The group setting and the fact that we can bounce ideas and questions off one another is extremely helpful and acts as a glorified study group... and we actually stay on-topic since there is an instructor there.
3. Look at the Objectives
All of my classes have a set of learning objectives for each section or exam. Its possible that you were given them all at once in the syllabus or that they're online somewhere. Wherever they are, find them. Professors are basically handing out what they plan to put on the exam. Go over them and make sure you know what's going on. Any blanks you have can be taken to office hours or a TA to be answered.
The most important aspects of studying isn't the actual studying,
but how the task is handled.
It's been proven that cramming doesn't work, but I've found that looking at the material anytime after 6 hours before my exam is stressful and harmful to my confidence. I begin preparing for any given exam one week before the date- that gives me a good 6 days to make sure that I have everything covered that needs to be. But it also gives me a manageable time frame that keeps me from stressing or feeling unprepared. The day of the exam I do everything in my power to not look at my material. At that point, I had better know what I need to know. Trying to force more ideas into my head is only good at putting doubts into my head.
When it comes to my studying schedule, I try not to do more than an hour or two a day. I lay out what I need to get done and stick to that schedule. When it comes to preparing and making sure that I know the material, it's important to me that I don't overdo anything. If I work ahead or do 4 hours one day so I can take a day off, I'll burn myself out and make it harder on myself to actually grasp the material. I take frequent study breaks- paint my nails, take a 30 minute nap, or go for a run- to clear my mind before I get back to it.
In the end, this relaxed approach has helped me more than anything else and I hope that it can help you, too! As exams approach, be proactive and get things done. You'll thank yourself when you actually get sleep the night before while everyone else is up cramming.