Managing Midterms – Freshman Fifteen

Midterm season is kind of a nightmare. In high school, you teachers at least could coordinate, and keep your tests spaced a little evenly (though that’s not to say they did) In college, though, your professors… Well, they don’t really care.

Managing Midterms

Here’s what you need to know…

If you’re a freshman, you’ve done this once before, but college midterms definitely aren’t something you get used to right away.

Check your schedule. Like, right now.

The first thing you should have done was check your schedule to make sure none of your exams put your schedule into conflict. If you haven’t yet, do it now. No, seriously, open a new tab and do it right now, I’ll wait.

If you do have a conflict, email both professors as soon as humanly possible. (Again, just do it now, I can wait.) Explain the situation, be honest, and be respectful. Always add a “let me know if there’s anything I need to provide/anything else you need to know/whatever” line to your emails, and if your professor replies asking for more info, get back to them quickly.

The one good thing about college is that your professors tend to be understanding about schedule conflicts. Since their students are all trying to complete different classes at different times, they kind of have to be. There’s no need to stress, but really: be proactive about any scheduling conflicts, and communicate with your professors early and often to avoid last-minute panic.

Actually prioritize wellness

For some reason, we wear a lack of sleep like a badge of honor. I do it too, so I’m not judging, but this whole “I only slept four hours last night!” thing has got to stop.

There may be times when you have to take an hour or two less to sleep so you can get everything done. We’re not perfect time-management robots. But being proud of your sleep deprivation, skipped meals, or any other lack of self-care is a bad habit, and one you should avoid starting.

Curled up in bed with my laptop is my favorite place. That's dangerous during midterms.

Study with water and healthy snacks nearby – it helps reduce stress and keeps you fueled and ready to go.

On a related note – getting a few hours of sleep is almost always preferable to pulling an all-nighter. Sure, you may have spent more time studying, but sleep deprivation does funny things to your brain. All that extra study time means nothing if you can’t remember any of it.

Know your study habits

You’ve been in college for a semester and a half now, so you should have a pretty good idea of what works for you and what doesn’t. Not sure? I’ve actually made a whole worksheet on finding your ideal study style and implementing it. You can find it in the Resource Library right now. If you’re not subscribed yet, sign up below:

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This worksheet will take you through your strengths and weaknesses, so you can choose the best place, time, and way to study. Whether you work better in a loud group or alone in the library, this worksheet will help you refine your plan and use your time as efficiently as possible. And during midterms week, we take the time we can get.

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Now play to your strengths. If you learn better in groups, be the one to organize a class study session. If you prefer to work alone, offer to chime in over Google Docs or some similar method to avoid distraction. If you’re a visual learner, color code everything. If you’re auditory, put your lecture notes through a dictation software and listen to the material again. Kinesthetic learners might benefit from more hands-on techniques, like mindmapping. And, of course, study in a place and time that makes it easier to learn!

Manage your time realistically

I love those optimistic study schedules I see people making around this time of year. “Study chem for 3 hours,” a nicely color-coded block instructs.

Yeah right.

Maybe you guys have a better attention span than I do, but there’s no way I could focus on a single subject for three solid hours. It just wouldn’t happen. But does that let me off the hook from planning my day completely?


Know yourself. Know your limits. Know your attention span. And then plan accordingly. You may not be able to pull off a six-hour study binge, but I’ll bet you could manage more than one two-hour study session, if you took a break for lunch with a friend in between.

Avoid temptation

Picture this: you’ve just completed a long, difficult paper that’s due tomorrow morning, and you definitely deserve a reward. You decide to watch an episode of your favorite show on Netflix before you start reviewing for tomorrow night’s test… Aaaand suddenly it’s past midnight. On the bright side, you finished the season!

You deserve rewards. You deserve break time. Fight anyone who tries to tell you differently. But addicting rewards, like TV shows, are a bad idea. It’s way too easy to justify watching another episode, and then another, and then another. Reward yourself with less-consuming things, like a snack, some time to doodle, a long walk (if the weather’s nice), or a phone call with a friend or family member.

Curled up in bed with my laptop is my favorite place. That's dangerous during midterms.

Curled up in bed with my laptop is my favorite place. That’s dangerous during midterms.

Give yourself something to look forward to

The number of times I’ve said “I just have to get through this week” is seriously alarming. But it’s true. Midterm season does have an end, and giving yourself something to look forward to when it’s finally over is a great way to stay motivated.

This reward could be anything, and don’t be afraid to treat yo’ self. Maybe you just really want a weekend home – arrange it with your parents. Maybe you can order something online that’ll be delivered just as you finish midterms. Or talk to your friends and plan a big dinner out together or weekend roadtrip once you’re all free.

I was always worried that planning something awesome after midterms would make them take even longer, but over the years I’ve realized that I need a goal to work towards. And as much as I value my education, sometimes a good grade just isn’t enough motivation.

So: study hard, take care

When you’ve got a little strategy behind your studying, you’ll make a lot more progress. Flying by the seat of your pants may have worked up until now – maybe even worked really well. But your luck will (unfortunately) run out sooner or later, and you should have good habits in place in case it does.