Quizlet is proud to partner with real students to showcase authentic voices on our blog. This guest post is by Trevor Mahoney, a Finance and Management Information Systems major at Santa Clara University.
As October rolls in, the spooky season is mounting. Scary movies, frightening decorations and all the fun activities that go hand-in-hand with them are slowly creeping to a Halloween night culmination.
For us students, though, there is another aspect to the Halloween season. Something far scarier than any ghost or ghoul of the night.
It’s that time of the year again. It’s roughly the halfway point through your semester and for some reason, all your professors agree now is the best time to throw an exam at you.
Talk about a real-life horror movie.
But there are ways to overcome this terror.
When you watch a scary movie, how do you calm yourself down? You close your eyes. OK, I don’t recommend doing that on test day, but I do have some great strategies that will help you calm down and ace those scary midterms.
Tackle one class at a time
Before actually diving into study strategies that will help you turn scary midterms into something to laugh at, you should do a priority check. Deciding where to dedicate your time is the first step in successfully acing your tests.
In my own experience, it can feel like professors purposely give all of their exams in the same week or two. This can become super-overwhelming. But you can reduce that overwhelm by handling one class at a time, rather than trying to study for everything at once.
There are two ways to study effectively, depending on your personal preferences. If it makes sense to give all your midterms equal attention, I recommend following the first strategy below. But if you are struggling in one class more than the others, or if one midterm accounts for a higher percentage of your grades than the others, try the second strategy.
1. Start with what’s soonest
There’s nothing scarier than getting so lost in your schoolwork that you forget to study for a test until the night before. If you decide that no one class needs extra attention over another, then focus on what is on deck. Whatever your next midterm is, begin studying for it right away so that you don’t get bogged down preparing for a test that isn’t right on the horizon.
2. Start with what’s most important
On the flip side, if one class is giving you a bigger fright than the others this Halloween, study for that class before diving into your other classes. You need to study for those other courses as well, but looking at your grades will help you identify which class needs the most attention.
Create a study timeline
After deciding which of your classes needs your attention first, it’s important to develop a study plan that can help you tackle those spooky midterms. Creating this plan involves multiple steps, but you don’t have to follow them religiously. You know your study habits best and what works for you personally.
Set short-term and long-term goals
If you’re anything like me, then you’re going to want to break up your studying into smaller chunks.
Let’s be honest here. We’re almost never fully prepared for midterms when they arrive, and the amount of material we have to learn in such a short amount of time is always nothing short of shocking.
Ironic, considering we put ourselves into that situation most of the time.
Regardless, breaking up your studying into smaller chunks by setting short- and long-term goals is a great way to get a handle on your midterm studies.
My favorite way to do this is to break up the studying by chapter. Start by reading through the textbook to get a handle on the chapter before actually diving into the concepts and their definitions. If you’re using Quizlet to study, make study sets for each chapter to break up the material into manageable chunks.
If your tests are less conceptual and more math-based, first of all, I’m sorry.
Second of all, set a short-term goal of reviewing the problems you know best and map out your long-term goals for the problems that will require a little more effort.
Create study blocks
After determining what your short-term and long-term goals are, sit down and figure out what your week is going to look like. I would personally recommend only setting blocks of no longer than 1.5-hours to study, and then giving yourself study breaks of 10 to 20 minutes. I mean, let’s be honest, none of us are going to sit down for eight hours in the library and actually focus for the entire time.
Studies also show that taking those breaks can improve your focus and mental clarity when you return to the books. You don’t need to be studying every second of the day. Do so when it is convenient and when you will have the most energy.
For me, this means sacrificing a little sleep and tackling my studies early in the morning when I’m sharp. Regardless of when you choose to study, make sure you set break times to let your brain rest. Otherwise, you’re going to burn out fast.
Give yourself free time
This is related to the last point, but I cannot stress it enough. Your midterms will be 10 times scarier if you do not give yourself any free time. Beyond your 10- to 20-minute breaks, block out time in your schedule for hanging out with friends and just relaxing. You’ll get nowhere if you’re stressed every second of the day.
Take advantage of online resources
You have your priorities. You have your study plan. Congratulations, you’ve gotten through the easiest part! What comes next is going to require some serious willpower on your part: Studying.
Follow the study plan you made like it’s the difference between life and death.
If you are able to do that without any help, then I envy you. Assuming you’re like me, though, and need a little accountability, there are plenty of online solutions that can help. I personally use Notion, which is an all-in-one planning tool that is free when you register with your student email.
This software helps me create a monthly calendar and weekly agenda so that I can visually see what I have on my plate for the week. There’s also nothing more satisfying than checking a box when you’ve completed a task and seeing the task disappear. If you don’t need all the bells and whistles, try just using Google Calendar, which has saved me more times than I can count.
As for actually studying, whether your school has opted for in-person or online classes this year, take advantage of your online resources. Most professors record their lectures and leave their slides posted for later reference. Download all of those and move them into folders on your computer, so that you can quickly reference them when you begin studying.
Breathe, breathe and breathe again
Right now may very well be the most stressful time of the year for you. At least during finals week, you probably won’t have assignments due while also having to worry about your tests.
Just remember to breathe and take midterm season slowly. Try to avoid focusing on how much you have to do and take it class-by-class. Your mental health is more important than anything else.
For those who need a more tangible solution to reduce their anxiety and stress this spooky season, belly breathing is a great stress management strategy that can help you relax. The steps are really quite simple:
- Sit or lie in a flat position.
- Place one hand on your stomach and the other on your chest.
- Breathe in deep through your nose and let your stomach push your hand upwards, but make sure the hand on your chest isn’t moving.
- Breathe back out with pursed lips and feel your belly drop downwards, using your belly to push out the last of the air.
- Repeat three to 10 times as needed
It may sound ridiculous when you’re reading through the steps, but believe me, it works miracles for that panicky shortness of breath we all feel when we realize how much work we have left to do.
Staying calm and collected is one of the most important things you can do come exam time, and it’s one of the best ways to ensure you can actually enjoy your Halloween instead of waiting scared for your test results.
Summary and Key Takeaways
Midterms are a scary time of the year, but the right preparation can help you overcome them without breaking a sweat. Focus on identifying what you know and what you can improve upon, then build a study schedule that reflects those insights. Make full use of the online resources at your disposal, don’t forget to take breaks, and breathe.
Midterm season can absolutely be something to dread, but it doesn’t have to rule your mind. Treat yourself this Halloween season by acing your tests and don’t get tricked by midterms that can ruin your spirit.
Trevor Mahoney is wrapping up his last year at Santa Clara University where he studies Finance and Management Information Systems. He has been an avid reader his whole life, which evolved into a passion for writing while he studied abroad in New Zealand last year. He is currently searching for a post-college job and hopes to work at the intersection of business and technology.