Frank’s Midterm Survival Guide

I hate midterm season. You’re stressing out all week, spending the majority of your day in the library, and sleeping late to cram material. Worse yet, you have to balance studying with all your other classes going on. It’s a rough and unpleasant period in the school year.

Although I’ve only been here for a little over a year, I’ve lost count of how many midterms I’ve sat through. What I do remember is that while I’ve bombed my fair share of exams, I’ve aced several, too. I now have a routine which works for me—hopefully some of these tips help you as well.

Start as early as possible.

Classes will usually release midterm dates on the syllabus or at least two weeks before the exam. Note these dates down and start studying as early as possible! If you study an hour a day for two weeks, you’ve got at least 14 hours under your belt—which is no small amount for any midterm.

Starting early has two big benefits: firstly, it gives you plenty of time to cover all of the material you need to know, and secondly, it’s not as stressful. It does take a lot of discipline to sit down and follow a schedule, but starting early is worth it.

If you have to cram, cram efficiently.

Pulling an all-nighter fueled on caffeine is REALLY not fun, so I’d try to avoid doing it at all costs. Unfortunately, sometimes you have to, so you might as well know how to do it well.

If you start studying for an exam a day or two before it happens, don’t bother going through lecture notes—that’ll take too long. Try find exams from the past on your course website and do as many of those as you can. Past exams are great for preparing you for the difficulty and nature of the questions that you’ll be tested with. Start by working through them slowly—make sure you understand the answers fully instead of just copying them down. Eventually, you’ll get the hang of things and be able to answer most questions on your own.

Cramming works, but it feels awful and isn’t as effective as starting early. Only do it if you really have no other option—there are plenty of better and less stressful study methods.

Study smart, not hard.

Copying out 15 lecture slides and trying to remember every single detail on each isn’t just time consuming—it’s unrealistic as well. Look for terms or topics your professor has highlighted and focus on those. Actively filter out material you won’t need—mindlessly copying terms down won’t help you understand them.

What I like to do is take notes on every lecture, and then try condense everything onto a single sheet of paper. Writing down everything twice helps reinforce concepts, and the single sheet forces me to cut useless content. Additionally, if you’re in a course that allows you to bring a cheat sheet into the midterm, you can use this piece of paper!

Go to the library.

I find studying in my room too distracting. One moment you’re drawing chemical molecules and compounds for your Organic Chemistry exam, the next you’re lying on your bed scrolling through Instagram with The Office playing on the TV. Going to the library gives you a quiet environment and forces you to study. There are little to no distractions in a library, so you can completely focus on getting your work done.

Plus, there are several gorgeous libraries on campus: my personal favorites are the Funk (ACES) Library and the Mathematics Library in Altgeld Hall. There are many more great spots to study on campus—go to them!

Although it’s a little far, the Funk Library is almost never crowded and is one of my favorite places to study.

Take care of yourself.

When you finally take that exam, the last thing on your mind should be what you’re going to have for dinner. Eat normal meals, sleep a healthy amount, and take breaks. Your mind functions best when you feel your best—a diet of Red Bull and 2 hours of sleep isn’t going to make you feel very good.

Midterms are tough. No one likes them. But it’s something everyone has to go through. At the end of the day, you will be okay—one bad midterm score doesn’t mean you’ve failed your course and certainly doesn’t define your intelligence. Keep your head up and keep working hard. It will always work itself out.



Class of 2022
I grew up in Hong Kong, China, and I’ve come across the world to Illinois to major in Astronomy in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. I’ve always thought outer space is super cool, and I love that I’m learning everything that I can about it at Illinois.

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