Midterm tips – how to tip the odds in your favor

     The chilly October weather has returned with a vengeance; while everyone’s putting on that extra sweater (and muttering a few choice words to Mother Nature), there might still be a (very thin) silver lining: lots of time spent indoors can be translated into lots of available study time to getting that 90% on your midterms!
     Now before I depress anyone any further, I should establish this first: university exams can be difficult, but keep in mind that “difficult” and “impossible” are cousins often mistaken for one another, but they are in fact very different creatures. At the end of the day, most professors still do have a certain class average to maintain (usually around high 60s to low 70s), and giving everyone an impossible exam is not very conducive to that purpose. Sure, they’ll make exams challenging enough to separate the students who have an extensive and intuitive grasp of the material from those who merely memorized the facts mechanically, but making exams so hard that studying won’t even make a difference defeats the whole point of the course. So, let us firmly establish that, since in most cases the exams are not “impossible” but merely “difficult“, your effort will make a difference and there are ways to prepare and improve your odds.
     Good daily study habits goes without saying: prepare for classes, pay attention and take good notes during classes, review & reflect on your notes after classes, and go to the prof office hours when you don’t understand something. 
     Now that you’ve built yourself a solid foundation by practicing good daily study habits,  prepping for exams becomes a lot more manageable. The goal exam reviews are to 1) getting to know the concepts like the back of your own hand (i.e by trying to teach a lecture to your friend, without referring to your notes) and 2) integrating different concepts in application (i.e by trying to do as many past/practice exam questions as you can – Professors will also post some practice questions before exams so you’ll know what to expect). Notice how I didn’t mention “re-read your lecture notes” – that’s because it should be performed as a daily habit, and by the time you get to preparing for exams, ideally, you should already be ready to delve into the realm of intuitive understanding, deep connections and insightful applications. 
     The list above is quite exhaustive and is the “ideal” preparation. In real life, your time/energy is limited so your first priority is actually to do as much of above as you can when studying for about a total of 4 hours per day (so shut down the distractions, set aside 4 hours, and make it count!); in my experience, once I go past that 4 hour limit, my focus and memory gradually drop below the unproductive threshold and there’s just no point in forcing myself to stare at the monitor for the remainder of the day. So try to studying like a sprinter – in intense, short bursts everyday instead of studying like an exhausted marathon runner for a week straight before the exam. You’ll be in much better shape when you walk into that midterm.
     The same principle holds for your other courses – with some subject-specific modifications,(eg. focus more on practice questions for things like calculus and focus more heavily on textbook readings for things like psychology), as well as some prioritizing (some midterms might worth substantially more than others). And everyone studies a bit differently, so don’t force yourself to follow everything I said to the letter if it doesn’t work for you – just follow the spirit of the advice, and hit the books!
     (and may the odds be forever in your favor!)


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