Five Tips for Mastering a Midterm

By Rachel Ward, Chico State Social Media Intern

College exams never fail to intimidate. Come October or mid-September, you are bound to encounter one of these daunting obstacles. In light of these scary endeavors, I have prepared five tips to help you successfully take on exams, whether they are midterms or finals.

1. Manage Your Time.

You may pursue exceptional time management either by hand, virtually, or both. For instance, maybe you have a better time remembering things if you write them down. If this applies to you, consider investing in a planner that allows you to jot things down and plan long-term.

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Perhaps you are more of a visual learner; maybe technology really speaks to you. If so, consider downloading an app for your phone like MyHomework that is specifically tailored to organizing your assignments and exams. (I use that one now and find it very helpful!)

Dedicate time on certain days to study, record those decisions, and hold yourself accountable to follow through.

Trust me, I know. Procrastination is very tempting. However, it’s not impossible to start developing healthy habits now. Plus, it’s much easier to start now in the beginning while everything is still exciting. I believe in you!

2. Use Your Resources, Darn It.

professors in discussion in an office

If you find yourself struggling with a lecture, your notes, or a textbook, that’s okay! There are resources out there designed to help you.

The first is your professor’s office hours. Every semester, my professors seem to bemoan the fact that few students actually use their office hours to get questions answered. Now’s your chance! Don’t understand the assignment or think of a question about the lecture after class? Stop by and ask. If a professor’s office hours don’t work for your schedule, I know that almost all professors offer time for appointments.

However, I understand that visiting a professor one-on-one doesn’t work for everyone. Though I urge you not to be intimidated, if it’s not for you, try meeting with a peer and taking advantage of my second recommendation: tutoring!

Tutoring is usually offered either through your department, or through the Student Learning Center (SLC).

Consider visiting your department for a list of tutoring options. Tutors from your department and the SLC (located in the SSC) are usually peers, so they don’t have the same intimidation factor as professors’ office hours.

The SLC asks that you make appointments at least one day in advance for most subjects (call 530-898-6839), which requires some good time management for those of you who like to procrastinate! But, they do have drop-in math hours (Mon.–Thurs., 3–6 p.m. in SSC 340), and online Writing Center available 24/7. Also, some classes have Supplemental Instruction workshops (aka guided study groups) available as well.

3. Study. Study. Study.student studies on the grass in front of Kendall Hall

Consider both studying by yourself and with a buddy or group.

Studying by yourself before meeting with others will give you the opportunity to attempt the material on your own.

Studying with others can be very helpful in two ways: one, other people may have answers to questions you weren’t able to answer yourself; and two, you might have the opportunity to teach others the material.

As the Roman philosopher Seneca said: “While we teach, we learn.”

When studying by yourself, try studying in different places every time, and distance yourself from distractions (i.e. your phone, a television, certain people). Another really great tip is to record yourself reciting a concept or definition, go to sleep with headphones, and listen to those recordings while you sleep. Let your subconscious take over from there!

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4. Remember That Self-Care!

While it is important to work hard and stay focused, it’s just as important to practice self-care. Making sure you get the necessities is very vital. For example: lots of sleep, hydration, and eating. Sleeping can actually help you recover your memory and forgotten knowledge.

And no, I do not mean hydrating with caffeine. Water, I definitely mean water.

Other types of self-care might include taking breaks or rewarding yourself after short bouts of studying. Studying in increments instead of hours on end may enhance the studying process. Rewards might include a quick Netflix episode or a trip to the Counseling and Wellness Center‘s massage chair. In the end, it’s about knowing what works for you, while practicing healthy habits along the way.

5. Practice Positive Self-Talk 🙂

Have you ever heard people telling you to “practice positive self-talk?” My Human Resource Management professor (David Agoff) opened the class by discussing positive self-talk and the effect it can have on our subconscious. He explained that if you exercise negative self-talk (i.e. “I’m a loser” or “I can’t do this”) then your subconscious will hear that and respond with ways to make that happen.

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However, if you practice positive self-talk (i.e. “I deserve this” or “I can do this”) the same reaction will happen: your subconscious will hear it and find ways to make it happen.

I know that some people struggle with test anxiety, which, unfortunately, can be very tough to overcome. I urge those who deal with this to try practicing positive self-talk and just see what happens.


Need more convincing on that last tip? Check out this TED Talk, “The Happiness Advantage: Linking Positive Brains to Performance,” and learn how positive psychology can actually make our brains work better, smarter, and faster. I think it’s worth 12 minutes of your busy schedule (maybe save it for a study break!).

You never know; it might give you a whole new perspective on life!

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