It’s that time in the fall term when midterms are rapidly approaching, and for many of you, this might be something you’re dreading. It can be a stressful time — on top of all the work you’ve been doing for your classes all term, you’re now expected to find time to revise everything so far. But don’t panic, this is an achievable task. Midterms are pitched at the level you’re at: if you’ve been participating in class, then you’ll have no problem consolidating your knowledge for a test, and if there are parts you’ve missed, then you’ll have chance to fill in the gaps. Whether you’re a first-year encountering midterms for the first time, or a returning student who’d like a bit of guidance, here are some tips to help you sail through these upcoming exams.

  1. Read your tutor’s instructions carefully.
    This goes without saying, but make sure you thoroughly read the instructions your tutor has given you on what the midterm will hold. All that you need should be in there; the format, the length, the topics that will be covered. Note down any important points on marking, so you know how to direct your revision most efficiently.
  1. Gather your resources.
    Before you start revising, make sure you’ve got all the resources you’ll need together in one place. Gather all the notes you’ve made throughout term, and take stock of any topics you’ve missed, or will need supplementary materials on. Download the lecture slides for these, and gather any extra materials that might be uploaded on your course page. Once you’ve got all your resources together, you’re ready for the next step.
  1. Condense!
    This is the most important part of revision, and the most time-consuming one. It goes without saying that you can’t learn everything about your class; and neither would you be able to write it all down in an exam even if you could. Revising for exams is about working smart, not sinking time in ways that aren’t useful. To be able to learn what you need to, first you need to condense your notes into an accessible format. Here’s how to go about this:
    Take a topic, read through your notes, once fully all the way through.
    Think about the most salient aspects of the topic: what is the problem at hand? Who are the important thinkers? What are the two sides of the debate? What are the key data-points involved? What evidence is relevant?
    In a short paragraph, or just a few bullet points, try to summarize the topic. This is a hard skill, but it will get easier as you keep practising! With a concise summary like this, you’ll find the task of revision much easier.
    Note down any questions raised, and your thoughts on the topic. Actively engaging with the topic in this way will help you link the knowledge together with other related topics, and will set it more firmly in your mind.
  1. Revise.
    Now that you’ve got your notes in a nice concise format, you can start learning from them. The short-form digestible summaries are an achievable task for what you can learn in the time-frame; and also, for what you’ll be able to write in an exam. You won’t overload your brain and you’ll feel much calmer approaching this task than trying to learn all your notes as a whole. Don’t cram; take your time, revisit these notes over a series of days, to make sure that the knowledge properly sets into your mind. This is the time to get out all your colorful pens and highlighters, if this is the way you work; use flashcards, and any other such tools at your disposal, to help the information stick in your mind in a memorable way. One good tip is to practise explaining a topic, to yourself or to others; if you can explain something well, then it shows you understand it. Learn with your friends if this is something you enjoy; it can make the process of revision much less daunting.
  1. Ask your teachers!
    If you’ve got any questions about the topics you’re to cover, or if you don’t understand a particular point, then make sure to drop your teacher an email, and discuss it with them in person if you’re able. Helping you out and making sure you do the best that you can is exactly what they’re there for, so make the most of this.
  1. Prepare for the day itself.
    This might go without saying, but make sure you are well rested and ready for the day. Get a good night’s sleep the night before your exam; don’t spend the night cramming, as tempting as it may be. At this point, you’ll have done what you need to, and any extra hours revising won’t stick in your mind. Get an early night, and you’ll wake up refreshed and ready. You’re going to do great!

With these tips, you’ll feel confident and ready to tackle your midterms. Take the time to prepare your summaries in advance, so that you’ve got time to gradually learn your notes, and set the knowledge deep in your mind. This process applies not only to midterms, but to exams in general — and as you keep practising this each time, it will become an easier and natural process that will allow you to flourish.

About the Author: Stephen attended the University of Oxford, where he received his B.A. in Philosophy & French, followed by his MSt in Ancient Philosophy. For the past five years, Stephen has taught and mentored students from middle school through college in positions all over the world, from the UK to South Korea. He focuses on language and humanities instruction, coupled with intensive writing skills and college application coaching. His language studies saw him teach English for a year in southern France, as well as holding a technical translation position in Spanish in Barcelona. He has received formal training in mental health support, and has substantial experience working with students with anxiety and depression. Stephen is a warm and dynamic individual, who focuses on creating an open and engaging learning environment. He is currently based in the UK, where he enjoys reading, taking long walks, and playing the guitar and piano.