Break is over and now exams are flying our way. Student stress is rising as a full schedule of classes demands preparation for tests and intensive projects.
For the most part, juniors and seniors are the only students in the building who have experienced taking a midterm. Even for these students, it has been a while since midterms were cancelled during COVID-19. This year’s midterms are scheduled for January 18th – 21st. After some teacher feedback and a school-wide decision, midterms are going to look as they did in the past. This will look like two 90-minute blocks each day. During these blocks, students will have a variety of different assessments depending on the class. These assessments may look like projects, presentations, tests, debates, or there may not even be an exam. The main difference between the midterm assessments and typical assessments is that often they require more work, show a more well rounded understanding of the subject, and are normally worth more in a student’s grade. Although this sounds like a lot of pressure and work in one week, upperclassmen and teachers have advice for how to meet the challenge.
Even if your midterms aren’t intense this year, it’s important to make a plan. Students should keep in mind that their A and B period exams are Tuesday, C and D period exams are Wednesday, E and F period exams are Thursday, and the G period exam is Friday. Knowing this schedule should help students plan out when they need certain assignments done, when they will study, and if there are any personal conflicts in that schedule such as doctor appointments. For a missed exam, there is a make-up period after G period on Friday. In addition to the midterm exams, students may meet with teachers to ask questions, get help, or may be pulled in for late work. These teacher meetings are 45 minutes in length and there are three of them every day after lunch.
Making a plan and meeting with teachers may not be required, but it can be crucial in readiness for the exam. If late work is completed before exams, students can focus more on the exam assessments coming up and ask more questions to teachers about midterms specifically. Planning around other time commitments or taking time off of them may also help students complete missed work and prepare for the exam. Midterms is meant to be a wrap-up of the class and all grades come back on January 31st. Midterms usually count as 10% of the class grade, a 100-point exam in quarter two, or as two assessments in the second quarter. Finishing work and attending the exams when they are scheduled reduces long-term stress for you and also helps the teacher because it gives them more time to grade.
Allison Howland (‘22) and Rachel Rowley (‘22) stress that meeting with teachers about their midterm exams is a big part of preparing for them. For tests, Howland finds that asking for types of questions on the exam can be helpful. Rachel Rowley (‘22) agreed. She said, “using your resources is the best way [to prepare] because your teachers are the only people that have taken and have been through the midterms multiple times and they’re probably writing [the midterm].”
All sorts of students with differing strengths and weaknesses get stressed during midterms week, and many students and teachers advise managing time and not procrastinating. Celeste Best, a science teacher, says that the most important thing in prep for midterms is to make a plan for what work you have and when you’re going to do it. She explained, “I used to always give a blank calendar out to my advisees and [say], ‘let’s map out what Tuesday looks like. What does Wednesday look like? [I have them plan] with everything [in mind], including jobs and sports”
David Hawley agrees and in addition also advises prioritizing which material needs more study time. He explains, “I would also triage what classes may need more of my attention. So, if I have an anatomy final and I’m not really good at anatomy going into it, then I might build in a series of time prior to the final [midterm] to study for it.”
If students don’t organize time to study, cramming the information can be ineffective and cause more stress. Howland said, “I know a lot of kids who try to prepare the night before and maybe that’s the best method if you’re just trying to memorize things. But it gets really stressful really quickly and you’re probably not going to be able to understand everything.“
Although it may be tempting to study the night in big chunks of time, students find it most effective to study in small chunks with breaks. This is what Hawley advises. He said, “what psychology says is really clear. If you cram it’s not very effective. So you really wanna give yourself 30-45 minutes of study time for that specific class in chunks… You don’t do it all at once because that is brutal. That’s the hardest part [of exam week]; it forces you to manage your time.”
Oftentimes, the teachers can give great resources for studying the material but when it comes down to it, you have to find time to study, and a method of studying that works for you. Some ideas to try include using practice tests and questions, retaking notes, explaining material to a friend, making flash cards, making visuals, and creating memory tricks for keywords and concepts. Kalinowski suggests a study method where she fills a paper with all the information she needs to know on the test. She writes down the most important details and shows examples. She explained that she uses this method before every test she takes “because I can just take maybe five sheets of paper or more depending on the class, and that’s basically all the information that I need to study for the midterm.”
Between the chunks of studying time, it can be helpful to take breaks. Breaks can calm down exam anxiety and give more energy to study. Since there are half days during midterms, there is more time for exercise, talking to friends, watching a tv show, cooking, or doing a hobby. KK Kalinowski (‘22) said, “It’s important that you take some time to sit down, calm yourself down, and do whatever relaxes you.”
Time managing and finding the best methods to study are crucial, but developing test-taking skills can also be helpful. There are many strategies that have been effective for students, like completing the problems they know first, underlining words, and attempting every question. Best’s suggestion is making an outline on a piece of paper before you start completing the test in order to calm yourself down. She said, “[write down] the first thing that comes to mind. It does not have to be a formal outline, although you can certainly do that… You might blank for a minute [during the test], but then you have these trigger words right there that get you back on track.”
For students making projects, there are also some tips to relieve stress and perform better. Hawley suggested, “play to your strength. Let’s say writing is your strength and you’re gonna do a podcast. I’d write how you want your podcast to sound and then just practice it a few times so that it’s comfortable for you. If you’re more of an extemporaneous speaker and you feel confined by writing, then you might structure an outline so that you know what you want to say. You might use that outline so you stay on track.”
If stress levels are unhealthily high on these higher stake tests and projects, it may be helpful to talk to an adult about other strategies, an alternative assignment to show understanding of the material, or help with the material itself. For example, some students get extreme presenting anxiety. Teachers sometimes provide alternatives for these students like a podcast or screen-recorded presentation. Although something may seem stressful in the moment, oftentimes, the assignments aren’t as bad as they seem and prepare you for real-life experiences.
Midterms are an important piece of a student’s grade but if you tried and your goal grade wasn’t achieved, remember that this happens all the time and that it will be okay. The point of midterms is to prepare students for college exams and job experiences like presentations. It stinks to get a bad grade but that other 90-plus percent of your class assessments will still show other instances of your hard work. Best said, “I think it’s good to have this experience because at the college level, your entire semester grade could be on two or three big tests and that’s it. I think it’s good to learn how to prepare and be ready…but in the end if you have a grade [you’re not super proud of], people’s grades might change only if they’re borderline of another grade.”
Howland, Rowley, and Kalinowski, all agree not to beat yourself up over an exam. It doesn’t always represent your knowledge and work ethic like it’s meant to do and sometimes things just don’t turn out as planned. Kalinowski said, “something that everyone should remember is that your test grade does not define the rest of your life. You’re gonna be able to go wherever you want to go and do whatever you want to do in the end, anyway.”