If you told me I had to choose between taking a midterm exam or a final, I would probably reach for my planner and pen, and ask you when the final exam was. I’m sure there are plenty of readers out there who will question my rationale. After all, the word “final” is inherently frightening. It is the end, the finish, the death knell, the swan song; no re-dos, no second chances. The key element of midterms, however, is the word “mid.” Midterms take place around the middle of the term. The time when you have to put in extra hours at work, turn in that journal assignment, complete your house chores, have orchestra rehearsal, have an appointment with your career counselor, want to go to the football game…it can feel as though there is no ample time to study. And although your RAs may be sympathetic, they cannot guarantee that your dorm will be a peaceful place to study. It’s a free country, and if your roommate wants to blast Zac Brown, you’re not in as good of a position to protest. Midterms generally take place during class time, and for some people, fifty minutes is not sufficient time to tackle an exam. In addition, while a class can have only one final, it is possible for a class to have multiple midterm exams.
And yet, with all that said, I recently discovered that I wouldn’t want to be in a class without a midterm. This realization occurred last summer, when I was taking Intercultural Communication as a week long course. Since the course was so short, our final paper was due a couple of weeks after our class stopped officially meeting. This final assignment was to interview someone from another culture and write a paper about our discoveries. Having confidence in my academic writing abilities, I interviewed my friend from Vietnam, quickly churned out a paper, edited it once, and sent it to my professor. No worries…until I discovered that I had earned a B+ in the course overall. After discussing my grade with my professor, I had learned that my final paper was what ultimately lowered my grade. Although my paper was well written, it did not directly address the academic terms and social patterns that we had learned about in class. In hindsight, I should have shown my professor a rough draft of my paper. Since the course was so brief, I didn’t have the benefit of a midterm; I didn’t have the opportunity to learn from experience what my professor wanted and to produce an “A” worthy final when I needed it most. In other words, a big lesson I learned is that midterms don’t have to be intimidating; they can actually make final exams less so. They can provide you with a cushion come finals time, or they can be the wake-up call you need to succeed.
The most successful midterms I experienced at Oregon State were the ones where the professors clearly outlined what they expected from a midterm in advance. One example of a professor who does an excellent job of providing information about her midterm exams is Charlotte Headrick, who teachers Theatre History here at OSU. Paying heed to Charlotte’s detailed information regarding her midterms served me well; in fact, during my last theatre history class with her, I did so well on both midterms that I was completely excused from taking the final! Of course, not all teachers will explicitly state what’s expected on their exams. If you feel unsure about to expect on your midterm exam, or what your teacher wants to see in your midterm paper, I highly recommend looking up your teacher’s office hours and making an appointment. Your professors are being paid to help you succeed; make them work a little harder for their money!
What you do after your midterms is just as important as what you do before. If you do an excellent job on an exam, keep doing what you’re doing. Now is not the time to rest on your laurels. But if you don’t do so well on a midterm, NOW is the time to ask your professor questions if you haven’t done so already. Ask him why you got marked down in certain areas and what you can do to improve (and sometimes, you just may need your teacher to decipher his handwriting). And be proactive: if you notice what parts of an exam you did poorly on, you know what you need to fix. If you know somebody who DID do well, you know who to ask to be in your next study group. And if worse comes to worse, if a midterm makes you realize that you can’t pass a class despite your best efforts, it’s good to be aware of the final drop date.
If you have a midterm coming up, good luck! You’re lucky to already have this opportunity to learn how to receive the most benefit from your classes.
P.S. One more thing: check out this link for several helpful studying tips. It’s awesome! http://www.studygs.net/