Head to head: Midterms keep students on track


Looking at my planner for this week, you would think I hated midterms. There are lots of capital letters and underlines, and a clearly desperate need for the weekend permeates the pages. I have a midterm in every class but one this week. But when the week is over, I will be grateful for (if also exhausted by) my midterm grades.

The middle of the semester is a good time to look back at your progress so far. Sororities and fraternities often conduct midterm grade checks to adjust studying hours and keep track of the chapter grade point average.

I used to hate doing this, but now that I’m knee-deep in my senior classes, I was so preoccupied with what grades I was getting that I calculated them early. Thankfully, they were good this time – but what if they hadn’t been? I don’t have another semester to make up a class in which I got a D. Midterm grades are a wake-up call for classes you might not have attended or assignments you might not have turned in.

No one likes going to the doctor either, but it prevents more serious illnesses. Midterms are like that for your grades. If you want to boost your grades, you still have half a semester to do it. If you felt like a certain midterm was easy, you know you can cut back on the studying for that class for the next exam.

Midterms give you a chance to reorient yourself with the material. Since the midterm covers everything from the first few weeks of classes, some material will be basic concepts and reviews of previous classes. Those are easy points if you have been understanding the material.

If you get your midterm grades back and they are a little below what you expected, The Writing Lab at Colorado State points out “there are several different ways to approach exams including an in-class essay, short essays, multiple choice, short answer, fill in the blank and matching.” These different types of questions can better prepare a student to synthesize the information already presented in the class, which builds a more solid foundation going forward.

Now would also be a good time to get acquainted with all the office hours you haven’t been attending. Even if you did well on your midterm, talking to your instructor one-on-one can be helpful to clear up a few things that you missed.

Advisers at the University of Illinois at Chicago recommend writing down a few questions for each instructor.

“Develop a list of questions related to the course or reading materials,” UIC’s advising website states. “Ask specific questions about concepts you don’t understand. Focus on what you think you need to do to better to understand the material and check with the instructor to see if you are on the right track. Instructors may be aware of support services available through the department or the college to supplement the information taught in the course.”

Midterm grades can provide a cushion when finals week rolls around. Too often, students see midterms and finals as separate tests when really midterms are half of the final. When you do start studying for finals, use your midterm tests as an extra study guide. For a cumulative exam, half of your material will already be answered and graded, so you don’t have to spend time looking for it.

The notes made for a midterm exam will be just as valid for a final review. For a non-cumulative class, the midterm exam still halves the work of studying for finals by excluding information that will not be on the test. Repeated tests may help you retain knowledge.

“The testing effect is strongest when the repeated tests are spaced out over an extended period of time, rather than massed together,” said John F. Kihlstrom, professor psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, in his article “How students learn and how we can help them.” “And, in fact, an ‘expanding’ schedule is best – with the first test immediately after studying some material, then a second test a little while later, a third test after a somewhat longer interval, and the like … we wouldn’t want to test students just once, at the end of a module, and then never again.”

Midterms aren’t fun, but they can be helpful to a GPA and overall learning. They will help you take stock of your year so far and get ready for the future.