Midterm advice from ASU professors

Who could possibly offer better advice on how to prepare for midterms than professors? They know the ins and outs of what is expected and they want to help you do your best. We spoke to faculty members from around the university to find out what they want students like you to know, and be prepared for, this midterm season. 

1. In the days before the midterm, study in chunks of 30 minutes or so, divided by breaks, and if you can, study in more than one place. Research suggests that both of those practices improve retention. – Catherine O’Donnell; Faculty Head & Professor, History

 2. I always tell students that you learn things best when you do them the second time around. Whether it is reading a novel cover to cover again or going back through all your Spanish vocabulary right from the first day of class and learning it fresh, you will be so much better prepared for a midterm if you give yourself enough time to work carefully through the course materials for a second time. – Jeffrey J. Cohen, Dean of Humanities, The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

3. Don’t always rely on your teacher to assign enough work for you to grasp a subject. You will sometimes need to strike out on your own, challenging yourself to look for different ways of understanding concepts. – Gary Cabirac, Senior Lecturer, School of Molecular Sciences

4. Show up to class every day. Do the assigned reading every week. Listen to what the instructor says about the exam (the format, what it covers, etc.). Start studying ahead of time and don't wait until the last minute. If you have any questions about the exam, ask your instructor or TA ahead of time. – Paul Mongeau, Herberger professor, Hugh Downs School of Human Communication

5. Right before a midterm, students get a sudden urge to read every single word in a textbook. You want to spend your time effectively, and this may not be a good time to do that. If you are pressed for time, make an outline of the major topics covered in the course, and start by getting a general understanding of those topics first before going deep into details. – Ara Austin, Clinical Assistant Professor and Director of Online Engagement & Strategic Initiatives, The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

6. Don’t memorize how to solve problems. Instead, look for underlying concepts that appear consistently. There are hundreds of ways I can test you on a certain concept, and no way to memorize all the variations. However, if you know the concept, you’ll succeed no matter how I ask the question. – Ron Briggs, Principal Lecturer and Managing Director of General Chemistry and Instructional Support, School of Molecular Sciences

7. It’s the weeks leading up to an exam that your preparation is happening. Get over the thought process of cramming. By the time you sit down in the day or two before an exam, you’re not seeing material for the first time, you’re reviewing topics and concepts that may have been difficult when you first encountered it in the preceding weeks. – Gary Cabirac, Senior Lecturer, School of Molecular Sciences

8. Ask your professor whether there are any old exams you can use to study. If not, think about working with a Zoom study group to create a practice exam or two. Seeing whether you can actually answer questions, including drafting essays if that will be part of your test, is more effective than only reviewing notes. – Catherine O’Donnell; Faculty Head & Professor, History

9. Make sure you have reviewed any announcements or instructions provided by your course instructor ahead of time and gathered any appropriate materials. The day of the exam is not the time to learn that you need a special web browser to take the exam, nor is it the time to learn how to use your fancy new calculator. – Ron Briggs, Principal Lecturer and Managing Director of General Chemistry and Instructional Support, School of Molecular Sciences

10. Get used to solving problems completely. Many students are content to solve a problem halfway, or just look at a problem and think, “I can do that” without actually doing it. Remember, there is no partial credit on multiple-choice exams, so knowing how to solve most of a problem will get you the same score as not knowing how to solve it at all. – Ron Briggs, Principal Lecturer and Managing Director of General Chemistry and Instructional Support, School of Molecular Sciences

Follow these professors’ advice and go talk to your own professors to find out their advice for you. Check out what Celeste, a junior at ASU and Student Success Coach, had to say about the importance of meeting your professors.  

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