It is already midterm week, and half of the semester has already flown by. Not too long ago, I was a first year PhD student beginning my first classes, but it's so true that time goes by when we are having fun! I really love being in school and being a student again after completing my masters degree over two years ago and spending a few years in what can be full-time drudgery. It is great to be back in academia.
But still, exams are a necessary annoyance. No different from the undergrad experience, there are so many unknowns about how to study, how the test questions will be asked, how the questions and answers will be structured, whether to answer in enough or too much detail, how tough the professor will grade your answers, the subjectivity of the questions being asked the professor's expectations of the answers, and so on....
I am hoping and planning to do well on midterms and will share with you my study tactics. Some of these tactics depend on the type of test it is going to be.
In terms of grad schools, there are some great schools out there but are huge in student numbers. If you are attending a school where the classes have a high student to teacher ratio, seriously prioritize the focus on study groups. Don't study on your own and have no backup if the lessons get tough.
Although I attend a smaller school, there are some general requirement classes with huge numbers of students. Unfortunately, this is the class where I have the in-class, multiple choice exam with an essay component. These tests remind me of those horrible lower division "weeder" science classes I had to take in my undergrad years. In another class, I have the take-home exam. These are awesome and reduce the stress level of the work involved. The third type of midterm I will receive this semester is the midterm written essay, to me the least stressful of these because I enjoy writing and researching.
Here are my study tips for midterm season:
Be sure to have a study (support) group. This includes studying with a regular group of classmates, and networking with students who have been through this experience in the past. Ask people who have taken the class about the midterms, how they got through it and what they can tell you about it. Advice can be so golden.
Make sure the professor provides you with some sort of study guidance. Ask about the amount of time the test will take, some sample questions, how much time to focus on which topics, and how many questions/types of questions are on the test. Make time to go to office hours, ask for as much detail as you can get about the test.
Prepare and share study guides. Learning from classmates about what they think is important from the class provides you with a greater advantage of a broader perspective on the subject. How many times have I thought that something was not important while another student noticed it, and there it was, turning up on the exam.
Thoroughly review class lectures, worksheets, and tutorials. These are generally the best clue you are going to get about the structure, content, and style of questions that will be asked.
If you are assigned the midterm essay exam, get that peer-review! The reason to love the written essay exam is that you are pretty much able to seek advice, get editing guidance, and hear feedback on your work by the professor, a classmate, or a campus writing tutor. How helpful is that!
* If possible, find out what you can about the class before you enroll in it. We all have our preferences for which types of exams we prefer, and perhaps you can ask about these before you enroll in classes. If you have a broad range of course options and want to be successful in your studies, think about asking the professors and previous students of the class about this and decide if this is the kind of class where you will do well. When it comes to your GPA this is not the time to fail and try again. That transcript is going to be part of your academic career if you choose to become a professor or apply for postdocs, scholarships, or fellowships.
I wish you the best of success this midterm season!