Midterm Tips: Preparation Is Key

Midterm season is in full swing at Barnard and Columbia, and everyone, whether you're a first-year or a senior, is stressed out. The key to success and maintaining your sanity is preparation, so here are eight tips to make life a little easier.

1. Go to review sessions if your professor or TA holds them

If your professor or TA is holding a review session for midterms, attend. Even if you think you are completely prepared, your professor or TA will, in all likelihood, give you some insight as to what they are looking for on the exam. For those of you who feel like you need extra studying, review sessions are the best way to do it; the session will have structure, and the material that is reviewed is often more likely to appear on the exam. Your professor or TA will also take notice of who is not there, and that could negatively affect your grade. I promise, review sessions are not a waste of time.

2. Go to office hours with your professor or TA

Professors and TAs possess a wealth of knowledge, and if you are concerned about any of the exam material, they will be able to help you and might even provide advice that you would not have received in class or at a review session. Also, interacting with your professor or TA one-on-one, especially if you are in a large lecture class, is extremely important. Attending office hours shows initiative, and professors and TAs will be impressed. That could help when they are grading your exams, since they will remember that you attended their office hours.

3. Sign up for Quizlet​

My 10th grade history teacher introduced me to Quizlet, and he made it mandatory for every student to sign up.  Quizlet is a free study website that allows you to make online flashcards, and there are a variety of ways in which you can study them.  My favorite way to study on Quizlet is Space Race, a game in which you have a certain amount of time to guess the term or definition on your flashcards.  I have used Quizlet for classes across different disciplines (history, psychology and statistics, to name a few) and have found it highly effective.

4. Form a study group (or study duo) with your classmates

It is always a good idea to study with at least one of your classmates.  If you know people, great: forming a study group with your friends will make studying less stressful. If you are worried that studying with people you know will be distracting, ask someone you don’t know, like the person who sits next to you or someone who sounds like they have a good grasp on the material. The worst they can do is say no, which is highly unlikely, and the benefits outweigh the risk. It is always helpful to have a classmate’s perspective on the material, and you might even make friends in the process—both happened to me.

5. Find the right study space for you

Finding a nice, quiet study space at Columbia is extremely difficult. I would highly recommend avoiding Butler during midterm season; the environment is toxic, and you will probably leave feeling more stressed than you were when you arrived.  Try the library in Avery Hall instead—it is a nice study space. You’ll also probably have good luck at Barnard; it's more low-key, and there are plenty of nice study spaces, including the third floor of the Diana Center and the new Milstein Center.  If you are a Barnard student, I recommend studying in the first-floor lounge in Brooks Hall, which is located in the Quad: there are electrical outlets, plenty of tables and large, comfortable chairs perfect for reading a long text. If you study in Brooks, remember to bring your Barnard ID with you, especially if you don’t live in the Quad.

6. Get at least six hours of sleep the night before an exam

If you have to choose between a reasonable amount of sleep and studying a little more, choose sleep.  If you get less than six hours of sleep the night before your exam, it will reduce your memory retention, and you will likely be groggy.  The more sleep you get, the better prepared you will be in the morning. When I have exams, especially ones in the morning, I try to go to bed early and wake up earlier the next morning to prepare for the exam, and I find that I’m more alert when I take the exam if I am awake earlier.

7. Dress comfortably on exam day

A lot of people dress up for exams, but I find that I am more comfortable taking exams when I wear a loose top, sweatpants or leggings, and sneakers; it makes me feel uninhibited.  I also wear my hair back when taking an exam because I get distracted by the feeling of my hair scratching my neck, and I need to be completely focused. Obviously, wear whatever makes you feel comfortable and confident on exam day, but know that it’s okay to dress more casual than you normally would.

8. Bring a water bottle with you to the exam

Whenever I take an exam, I always bring a bottle of water with me. If you need a break and you can’t get out of your seat, take a few sips of water; it gives you the opportunity to collect your thoughts and look at the exam with fresher eyes.

Good luck on your exams!