How to Survive Midterms in Grad School

Well, not quite sure how it is this far into the semester already, but we have made it about halfway through our classes.  However, this milestone also brings on quite a bit of stress… between group projects and papers, three exams, and one quiz, it can be quite overwhelming to even know where to begin.  I’ve devised a plan on how to tackle these next two crazy weeks and hopefully my plan will help you survive as well!

1: Know how you study best.

It has taken me a long time to realize this after many wasted hours of unproductive studying, but some of the best studying I have accomplished is done alone, sitting at my desk in my apartment.  I do like to study with friends occasionally, but I usually save this time for after I have reviewed a majority of the material beforehand.  This allows me to figure out my strengths and weaknesses regarding the objectives for the exam.  For instance on my upcoming law midterm, I have been reviewing my own notes from class and TA hours before discussing the overarching topics with peers from class.  This prevents me from becoming overwhelmed during study sessions by reviewing all the material at once with classmates.

I also learned that I do not do well studying in a coffee shop as I tend to get too distracted by the noise around me.  However, if you feel too isolated studying alone in your room, don’t feel that you have to make that work for you! Do what works best for you.  The study habits that work for one student might not work best for you.  The most important thing, if something is not working well, do not force yourself to continue studying that way.  Change your methods and find how you are most productive.

2: Take time for self-care.

Do something for 30-45 minutes every day that makes you truly happy.  This can be anything from going on a walk, hanging out with a friend, watching an episode of tv, or simply reading a good book before you fall asleep.  I am a big fan of going on a run or hitting the gym.  I spend less time working out during exam weeks, but I still make it a point to continue my exercise habits.  The act of stepping away from my computer and notes for an hour each day helps prevent me from being tempted to spend just as much time checking social media while “studying.”  By taking time each day to do something that makes me truly happy, I feel more focused when I sit down to study and am more productive in a shorter amount of time.

3: Treat your body to healthy foods this week.

It may be tempting to simply eat fast food/microwave meals every night when you have limited time to study.  However, taking an hour at the beginning of your week to meal prep healthy dinners will save you time the rest of your week.  I do this by making baked lemon pepper chicken, veggies (either a bag of frozen green beans or a mix of broccoli, carrots, and peppers), and quinoa.  With each meal, I am able to just heat them up and have a healthy quick dinner without having to spend money eating out or eating food that will just end up making me feel more tired.  Eating healthy will keep you from getting sick during midterms, which let’s face it, no one has time to deal with when you’re this stressed.

4: Look at how far you have come, not how far you have left to go.

Take a moment to reflect on the amount of work you have already completed this semester.  Think of all the papers, quizzes, and exams you have already successfully finished thus far.  If you can survive those, you can make it through midterms.  The admissions committee did not make a mistake in letting you into the program, and you are meant to be here.  While it may be tough to stay motivated and continue putting in significant amounts of work, remember where you were 6 weeks ago, 6 months ago, or even a year ago.  Do you think you’d be where you are now? I certainly am farther now that I thought possible a few months ago.  But also, don’t lose sight of your goals.  Keep up the hard work.  Remember, school is a marathon not a sprint, so pace yourself so you can push through the second half of the semester!

5: Sleep!

You will do yourself no help if you forego sleep for the week just to stay up and study a few more hours for an exam.  I will preface this by saying I tend to get less sleep during an exam week than a normal school/work week.  However, I still make sure to get around 5 hours of sleep a night.  Over the years, I have tried to function on less sleep than this before big exams and just ended up too exhausted to be productive while studying.  My advice: find out how much sleep you need to feel rested so you can spend your allotted study time productively.

In the end it is more important to study smarter not harder.  While it may be tempting to pull all-nighters, skip going to the gym, and avoid cooking your own healthy meals, taking time for self-care will help you to feel less anxious throughout the week, and will allow you to better prepare for test day.


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