Midterms are a daunting and seemingly never-ending cycle. When I fill out my planner, I can feel very overwhelmed looking at the various midterms and projects I have in the span of just a few weeks. However, over the years, I have picked up on a few strategies that help me avoid cramming and survive the infamous Carolina midterms.
In my classes, I always want to be perfect. It is not a profound or unique sentiment, but I enjoy success. After attending class, completing all the assignments, and putting in hours of extra work to prepare for a test, I hope that it pays off and I can get rewarded with a good grade. Even if I know I haven’t prepared to my fullest, I at least hope to get lucky. So, when I got a Sakai notification that my CHEM 102 acid/base test had been graded, and I saw a rather unfortunate grade, I panicked. I questioned my validity of being a student at UNC. I compared myself to my peers and wondered why I was inferior. Mostly, I was overwhelmed that the course continued to introduce new material when I had yet to master the previous unit. Realizing that brooding over these thoughts wasn’t helping me improve, I decided to work on changing my mindset and to use that bad grade as a turning point towards progress.
Coming to UNC, I thought that I had a relatively good grasp on Spanish, having taken Spanish classes for 5 years from 6th grade to 10th grade. Since it had been two years since I had taken Spanish, I decided to enroll in Spanish 105 for my first semester thinking it would be muy fácil (very easy). To my surprise, very little English was spoken throughout the entire semester. So not only did I have to switch my STEM-centered brain to grasping grammar concepts but I had to adapt to directly understanding words in Spanish instead of translating to English in my head. This was a challenge for me but along the way I picked up some handy study habits that helped me to succeed.
Since my freshman year of college, one thing I have noticed about myself is that I tend to get stressed the day before and the day of an exam. This would often lead to me performing beneath my potential. It ended up being a never-ending cycle. Slowly, throughout my years of college, I have developed small coping methods that have worked for me and might work for you as well!
When I think back on how my study habits have evolved over my time at UNC, there is one key change that had a dramatic effect on how I prepare for exams. During my first semester, I adopted the strategy of reading textbook chapters, notes, and lecture slides over and over again in hopes that somehow this would magically deposit information into my brain. I also did practice problems and practice exams, but I dedicated a large chunk of time to this strategy of obsessively rereading material. It didn’t take very long for me to realize that once the test was put in front of me, almost all of the information that I thought I had retained went straight out the window. I knew that I needed some way to supplement my approach of doing practice problems with a strategy to retain important concepts and information as well.
This semester, my anatomy course has posed a unique challenge for me. My previous studying methods were not helping me reach the level of understanding needed to excel on the quizzes; instead, I found myself falling into the trap of reading over material in the textbook and feeling a false sense of understanding. I could recognize what I was reading or the diagrams I was examining, but my quiz grades were still less-than-ideal. Frustrated with this pattern, I decided it was time for a change in my studying habits!
In college, I consistently wrote papers last minute. I rarely outlined anything. My senior thesis–supposed to be a year-long writing project–was written in a flurry in March and April of 2013. (I changed the novel I was writing about in February.) While I was furiously adding footnotes and writing whole sections of my thesis the night before it was due, a good friend of mine was calmly line editing hers. I was jealous–and started to acknowledge that I might be a die-hard procrastinator.
The MCAT tests every pre-med prerequisite in ways that may be unfamiliar and, frankly, quite daunting. This summer, I’ve decided to buckle down and start studying. In the process, I have learned more about my own learning styles and how I study best. I want to share some tips that have been helpful for me so that they can be beneficial for others!
Last fall, I realized that many of the study strategies and time management systems that I used as an academic coach could be helpful in my own life as a graduate student (and as an adult, in general). I was in the middle of reading for my Ph.D. qualifying exams and desperately needed a better system. (A list of nearly three hundred books to read in roughly a year felt daunting, to say the least.) Watching as my coaching students revelled in their newfound organizational skills and improved study strategies, I thought to myself, Gee, I should really try these, too.