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Tips for Surviving First Year: Coming to Terms with Midterms

Edited By: Joy Jiang


“Have you ever felt personally victimized by [U of T]?”

— Mean Girls 

Well, after my first midterm season, I definitely did. As a first year student, I was extremely stressed out. At the same time, I thought midterms would be similar to high school finals, so I spent my midterm season studying the same way I had all my life: memorizing the textbook and skimming notes for a good, long three days. However, after finishing my first midterm and receiving my grade, I realized just how deep into the cesspool I had fallen. Although my first midterms had been rough, I learned five things that helped me (and hopefully you next time).

1. University exams are nothing like the ones in high school

Have you ever experienced the overwhelming panic that creeps up on you after looking at the first page of your exam and realizing you don’t even know how to answer any of the questions? That’s what university exams are designed to make you feel. In high school, memorizing and regurgitating was the best method to study for tests. However, in university I learned that, that doesn’t cut it. Most tests are made of solely application questions and you have to really understand the material to do well.


2. Expect the unexpected           

I am a huge fan of rigid schedules. I used to plan out my day minute by minute and made sure I had enough time to study for every course. Unfortunately, as we all know, plans usually go awry because of illness, exhaustion or an unexpected turn of events. When studying for exams, it’s important to plan to finish all of your studying a few days earlier. If anything goes wrong, then you have those extra days to finish studying and if nothing goes wrong, then you have those extra days to review.


3. Sleep, sleep and sleep

Studying is essential, but pulling all-nighters always seems to be the go-to study method. But when you wake up the next morning looking and feeling like s*** and you can’t even remember what you studied last night (and no amount of concealer or coffee can help), you realize an all-nighter was probably not the best idea. Study hard during the day and sleep well at night because a rested brain can make all the difference during an exam.

4. Know the material inside and out

My first midterm at U of T was a nine-page exam littered with application questions that had to be completed in 55 minutes. When the TAs said there was five minutes remaining and I had two short answers left, I felt like I was at the top of the leviathan waiting to fall to my doom. Understanding the material in depth will help you think fast when the TA announces that there are five minutes remaining.This way you will probably feel like you’re at a spa while you leisurely complete your exam.


5. Don’t Dwell

The best part of a midterm is you can walk out and complain to your friends or compare answers to every question. But I’m sure we’ve all come across that “oh no” moment when we find out some of the answers we were confident about are wrong. Suddenly, the calculator comes out you calculate every possible score you could’ve gotten and maybe you obsessively check blackboard every night like I do. The important thing to remember is that there is nothing you can do once you’ve walked out of an exam. You cannot change your answers, all you can do is learn from your mistakes and study for the next test (or, if you’re done midterms, reward yourself).


University is stressful and exams are even worse. But studying hard, managing your time and planning ahead can be a great help in making you successful. Hopefully these tips help you on your next set of exams. Good luck on finals! 

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