How to Overcome Overwhelmed
It’s hard to believe that we’re halfway through the fall semester, but midterms are right around the corner for many students. Whether you’ve been taking classes remotely, in-person, or some combination of the two, we’re here to help you study smart and show your strengths. Here are Applerouth’s tips for midterm mastery:
Get yourself re-organized
We all have the best of intentions in the beginning of the semester. We put our course syllabi in our brand-new three-ring binders and we keep our notes neat and categorized…at least for the first few weeks. By the time midterms come around, it can be hard to find your study guides in the piles of homework, graded quizzes, and other papers that find their way into your backpack. If you’re working virtually this semester, your computer’s files might not be as neatly categorized as you’d like them to be. Clutter – whether physical or digital – makes procrastination worse because it’s impossible to figure out what to do first when all your study materials are mixed up.
Before you start studying, get your class materials organized again. If you’ve got physical papers, spread them all out on the kitchen table and put them into piles by class; then you can put them back into the binders where they belong. If your work is all electronic, create computer folders for each class and put your resources into the correct folder.
Getting organized is going to do a few things for you. First of all, it’ll make you feel less stressed out. According to the New York Times, clutter can actually trigger physiological stress responses. Getting organized will also help you figure out what you need to be successful in studying for midterms. Did you lose your study guide? Now you can ask your teacher for another one. Are you missing notes from a class session you didn’t attend? Time to reach out to a classmate for them. Effective studying starts with an organized mind and an organized binder (or desktop).
Find an accountability buddy
Writing for ThoughtCo, Grace Fleming recommends pairing up with another student when you’ve got a big exam approaching. There are a lot of benefits to studying together: you can help each other grasp the content more fully, dive deeper into analysis, and make connections that one person might not see on their own. More importantly, you’ll hold each other accountable. It’s a lot harder to procrastinate when you’ve got another person relying on you to take notes or make flashcards.
Choosing the right study partner is important! You want someone who is willing to put in the same amount of work as you are. What’s more, the focus of your study sessions should be just that: studying. Fleming writes, “For this reason, it might not make sense to partner up with your best friend.”
Make time for spaced practicing, rather than cramming the night before
Even if you’re doing all your classes online, it’s important to schedule dedicated time for studying. A good place to start is with your midterm dates and deadlines. If you’ve got all of those dates in your calendar, you can start filling in the days between then and now with study sessions for specific classes.
Instead of cramming the night before an exam, consider trying something called spaced practicing. In spaced practicing, you might spend the same amount of time studying, but it’s spaced out over a longer period of time. For example, instead of staying up the night before your physics midterm and cramming for six hours, you could study an hour a day for the six days leading up to the exam with better results.
Spaced practicing is better for you than cramming for several reasons. According to the Psychology Department at UC-San Diego, our brains aren’t designed to hold lots of information dumped in all at once. Cram sessions simply don’t give the return that we would hope for, given the amount of time we invest in them. However, if you study for shorter sessions at regular intervals, you can divide up your content and give your brain less to hold onto at one time.
For example, you might take a section of your study guide to focus on during an hour of study and save the next section for the next day. This also applies to midterm papers: instead of trying to draft, edit, revise, and proofread all in one sitting, break up the tasks into smaller pieces so that you draft one day, edit the next, and so on. When you plan out a study or work session, make sure you set yourself concrete goals to accomplish and mark them off as you complete them. That’ll help you stay focused on your target.
Spaced practicing requires more planning and self-discipline, but it’s better for your brain and better for your midterm grades.
Study guides and notes are great, but you might need a bit more excitement in your study sessions. Being remote doesn’t mean you have to spend your days surrounded by textbooks, staring silently at a study guide. Use the technological tools at your fingertips to make your studying sessions engaging and social, either with your study buddy or with a group of classmates. You can make flashcards and quizzes with Quizlet or host Zoom trivia sessions using the material from your study guides. You can make the quizzes and trivia sessions as simple or elaborate as you like (consider using Halloween candy or social media time as a prize for high-scorers).
This year, your midterms might be in-person, remote, or some combination of the two. We know the midterm season can feel overwhelming at first, especially in a year like this where you might be learning in a different format than what you’re accustomed to. No matter what form your exams take, you can overcome those overwhelming feelings and succeed if you put your time and energy into smart study strategies like these. Happy studying!