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How to Study Effectively for Midterm Exams

What is the best way to study for a midterm exam? Here are some study strategies and methods that will help you before the exam and when it is time to take the test.

Two female international students and one male international student take a midterm exam at college.

Knowing how to prepare for an exam can be stressful—especially when you are an international student facing your first midterm exam, which can have a big impact on your final grade. While it is normal to feel a little anxious, there really is nothing to worry about. By knowing how to study effectively, you can prepare for your midterm exam like an expert. 

What are midterm exams?

Midterm exams are a type of test or assessment given to students in the middle of an academic term or semester. Compared to smaller quizzes, tests, or even some papers, midterm exams have a bigger impact on your overall grade for the class. 

The format of midterm exams will vary, but they can have multiple choice, short answer, fill in the blanks, or essay-type questions. Depending on your professor, some midterm exams are held during class time, while others are take-home exams. Each class syllabus will have all the key details about the midterm exam. 

Additionally, midterm exams can be helpful in preparing for your final exams. They help evaluate your current progress in class and can identify subject areas where you may need to improve.

Do midterms affect your final grade? 

Yes, they do. However, the impact of the midterm exams on your final grade can vary depending on the subject and the professor. (Again, this information can be found on your course syllabus for each of your college classes.) 

For example, sometimes midterm exams may count for only 5% of your grade in History—but in English, the midterm could count for 20%. If you are still unsure about how midterms affect your final grade, you can always reach out to a Shorelight advisor.

How to study effectively for your midterms

Every student has different ways of studying, so there is no foolproof method that works for everyone. Try out the study techniques below to see which work best for you. 

1. Understand your learning style

It is important to know your preferred learning style because it influences the way you process information and approach problems. When you understand your learning style, you will then know which study methods work best for you—and which ways of studying are not as effective.

There are three different types of learning styles: 

  • Visual learning—for this learning style, visual concepts like pictures, graphs, and mind maps are used to process information.

  • Auditory learning—this learning style uses sound and music to study. Auditory learners can read their lecture notes out loud, listen to recorded class sessions, or participate in discussions.

  • Kinesthetic learning—these learners prefer hands-on learning techniques, such as conducting experiments and working on projects.

Depending on the course subject or type of midterm exam, you may prefer to study with one style of learning or even a combination of styles. Research shows that identifying your learning style helps you study more productively in less time.

2. Keep up with your class work

By regularly completing your assignments and quizzes, you can identify your strengths and weaknesses in the subject. This can help you address any confusion about the subject immediately, instead of seeing issues come up when you are studying for the midterm exam. If you are finding it difficult to study certain topics on your own, speak to your professor or look for a tutor on campus—they are always there to help.

Additionally, you can form study groups with other students from your class and work on problems together. This can also be an opportunity to make new friends. Whether it is studying at the library or the local coffee shop, you can make studying a part of your campus life, so it does not feel like a chore.

My favorite class is ENC 1011. There's a lot of work but I do it and I’ve been getting good grades. I like the professor. The advisors encourage me to visit the tutors and talk to my professors about exams.” – Dennis from Indonesia, University of Central Florida

3. Prepare a study plan

Staying organized and knowing how to manage time for study can help achieve the results you want. But as an international student, you may have other commitments on campus, like volunteering for a nonprofit organization, participating in club activities, or even working part time. This is where a study plan comes in. 

With a study plan, you can start early and use your available time wisely. For example, you can decide which subjects to prioritize and plan how much time you want to spend on each subject. 

When creating your study plan, remember to schedule short breaks as well—this ensures that you do not cram information or get distracted. One way to remember your schedule easily is to use a calendar app to set reminders for when a study session starts and ends.

4. Study smart

You have your study plan set, time blocked off, and even a snack or two. Now, it is time to sit down and actually study. Here are some effective techniques to organize your studying to make sure you are making the most of out your time.

  • Make a study guide: In your guide, list and outline the concepts, facts, and equations that could be covered on the test.

  • Use flash cards: Flash cards can be especially helpful in memorizing facts or concepts. If you prefer apps, Chegg Prep, Cram, and Quizlet can help you study for your midterms, or you could use 3x5 index cards.

  • Do practice problems: These are often found in your textbooks, course materials, and online. Practice problems can help you become more familiar with the types of problems included on your midterms.

5. Take care of yourself the night before the exam

Some students attempt to cram information at the last minute, but this does more harm than good. According to the American Psychological Association, when pulling an all-nighter to study, memories are harder to retrieve—which means it may be difficult to remember the material when you actually take the test. Instead, remember that you have been keeping up with your classwork and your study plan throughout the semester—this slow and steady long-term approach will serve you well during your midterm exams. 

Two important things you can do the night before the exam is to eat well and get plenty of rest. For your dinner, plan to have a healthy meal with a protein, vegetables, and whole grains. You should also try to avoid caffeinated drinks, like coffee or energy drinks, and aim to drink plenty of water. Then, set up a calm and relaxing environment so you can get a full night’s sleep. When you are well rested, your brain retains information better and is prepared to perform at its best. 

If you are still feeling anxious about the exams, talk with your friends or family. It is normal to feel overwhelmed, especially if you are taking your midterms for the first time. Be proud of how far you have come.

Soon, it will be time to put all your hard work into action. 

Things to remember on the day of the midterms

Here are a few tips to make sure you are in the best state of mind for your midterms.

  • Have a healthy meal—if you normally skip breakfast or lunch, make it a point to eat something on exam day. Choose a meal with foods rich in omega-3 fats, like salmon, flax seeds, or walnuts, known for their brain-boosting properties.

  • Stay hydrated—drink plenty of water before the exam. According to studies from the University of East London and the University of Westminster, students who bring water into the examination hall may score an average of 5% higher than those without.

  • Bring all necessary materials—remember your pens, pencils, rulers, or any additional tools required for the exam. Pack these items the night before, so you will not spend time looking for them in the morning.

  • Arrive early—plan to be at the exam at least 15 minutes early. If you are living off-campus, make sure to check traffic conditions so you can avoid any unexpected delays.

Studying for your midterm exams can be challenging. But remember, you are not alone in feeling this way. All students experience anxiety and worry about upcoming midterm exams. Managing your time effectively and staying organized can set you up for success.

Good luck on your midterms!

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