Skip to main content

Preparing for Midterms and Finals

Part 1: Preparation

Before beginning to study, gather details about the exam: how much is it worth? Is this course vital to your future career? What marks have you earned in the course thus far? This will help you to prioritize when faced with several exams, and to decide how much time you will need to dedicate for study.

Regular review periods throughout term

It is important to study throughout the term. If you regularly review your course material, you will avoid having to relearn everything at the end of the year.

  • Daily review

After each class, look over your notes and fill in any information you may have missed. Before each class, go over the previous week’s notes to prepare yourself.

  • Weekly review

At the end of each week, gather together all of your class notes, summarize important concepts, and make sure that you understand the material covered that week.

  • Final review

At least three weeks before your exam, begin extensively reviewing all course material that will likely be tested.

Talk to your professor and TA

  • Keep track of the concepts that you don’t understand. Before starting to study, use the textbook, a classmate, a tutor, or your professor or TA to help explain these concepts.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask your professor or TA for help. Visit them during their office hours. Make sure to attend any review sessions. Do not skip lectures.

Part 2: Planning

Gather information about your exam

  • Use the course syllabus, lecture topics, lecture notes and your professor or TA, in order to determine which topics the exam will focus on.
  • Look at any tests you’ve previously taken in this course to determine your professor’s testing style. Try to figure out why you lost marks on these tests in order to avoid making similar mistakes in this exam.
  • Try to find any old exams from the course, whether from the department, the library, or from other students. Read them over and try answering the questions yourself.

Create a schedule

  • Rather than planning a long, marathon study session, divide your material into smaller parts. Plan to cover one part in each session.
  • Schedule time for fun to avoid burn-out. Knowing you have an upcoming break will also help you focus on the current material and avoid wasting time.

Set goals

  • Know what material you wish to cover during each study session. Set a specific time by which you wish to accomplish your goals.
  • Setting goals allows you to have something to strive for, rather than studying aimlessly. You will be more motivated to start studying, and less apt to spend time on meaningless activities.
  • Reward yourself for accomplishing your goals in order to reinforce your positive study habits.

Part 3: Studying

Using strategies can help you study more effectively. Choose whichever strategies you find most helpful for your learning style.

Active Studying

Simply skimming the page with your eyes can become dull, and you may not retain the information. You must actively engage your senses and think consciously about the fact that you are studying, not simply reading the page.

  • Read your notes out loud instead of reciting them in your head
  • Teach the material to a family member or friend who isn’t taking the course
  • Draw diagrams or concept maps to visually represent the information
  • Use the 3R’s strategy: Read, Write and Recite material

Questioning

Try to predict which questions may be asked on the exam, and practice answering them on your own. This helps you to remember information as well as allowing you to rehearse the testing situation, which can reduce anxiety for the day of the exam.

  • Look to the course syllabus, powerpoint slides, chapter titles, previous tests, and information from the professor, in order to predict possible exam questions.
  • Test yourself using a time limit that reflects the actual exam.
  • Mark your “exam” in order to find the areas where you are struggling. Spend some time studying these concepts until you are comfortable with them.

Studying with others

Studying with a partner or in a group can be beneficial because other students can share resources with you, provide a fresh perspective on difficult concepts, and offer support and motivation when studying becomes tedious. There are several ways to make studying with a group more interesting and beneficial.

  • Quiz each other on the material
  • Compare lecture notes to identify missing/additional information
  • “Teach” each other different concepts
  • Try to come up with questions that may be on the exam
  • Help one another to understand difficult concepts

Creating visual aids

It might help you to create a concept map to visually represent information. A concept map is a diagram that connects different ideas or bits of information to one unifying theme or concept.

  • To create a basic concept map, write your main concept in the middle of a page, and then draw lines branching out across the page, connecting the concept to any relating ideas. 
  • You may draw your concept map in order of hierarchy, with the main idea at the top of the page and the branches extending downward in order of importance.
  • Your concept map may also resemble a flowchart, organized with each idea leading to the next, to represent a system or process.

Memory aids

Mnemonics can help you remember information for subjects that require straight memorization.

  • Create an acronym: a word using the first letter of each concept; for example, BEDMAS represents the order of operations for math problems (Brackets, exponents, division, multiplication, addition, subtraction).
  • Create an acrostic phrase: as with an acronym, the words begin with the first letter of each concept but form a memorable phrase; for example, “MVery Excellent Mother Just Served UNachos” can be used to remember the order of the planets (Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, etc).
  • Create analogies to relate concepts to memorable images; for example, your brain is like a computer.

Flashcards can also be helpful for memorizing key information. Write the question or concept on the front, and the answer or explanation on the back. Flashcards are easily portable so you can quiz yourself at any free moment, like waiting in line or before class.

Part 4: Post-Exam Reflection

Most professors will not give your exam back for you to review at your leisure. It is important, however, that you do go over your marked exam to identify your areas of weakness. Visit your professor during office hours to take a look at your exam. Try to figure out where you went wrong.

  • Did you run out of time to answer the question? Try to manage your time better while writing your next exam.
  • Did you misunderstand the question? Look for key words such as: explain, comparediscuss, ordefine, in order to identify what kind of answer is required. Carefully read through each question rather than rushing to answer.
  • Did you know the general concept, but lack specific details? A more in-depth review of important concepts is required for the next test.
  • Did you simply not know the correct answer? Identify the reason for your lack of knowledge. If you missed a class, know that you have to make more of an effort to catch up or ask a friend to take notes for you. If you didn’t have time to study that section of the text, start studying sooner for the next exam or learn better time management strategies. If you simply didn’t revise that part of the text, you will have to try to better identify which subjects will be featured on the next exam.
University of Ontario Institute of Technology logo