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Crushing midterms in an unusual year

Santosh, Life Sciences, Class of 2021

Greetings Gaels!

As midterm season approaches us once again, we can expect assignments, labs, and of course, tests to take over the next few weeks. But not to worry: in this blog, I’ll give you a few strategies that have always helped me get through midterm season. Although this midterm season might not look like those in past years, the advantage we have this term is having last semester under our belt. We’ve all been through one round of online-only tests and exams, wrestled with proctoring software, had to deal with distractions at home while trying to write a test, and so on. Taking a few moments to look back on last semester can help us make better decisions this time around. Think about what you could change this midterm season, and pick one small habit or strategy to try. Not sure what’s right for you? Here are four quick tips I’m using right now:

  • Interleaving: As a science student, interleaving worked wonders for me. By mixing up the topics I studied, I naturally made connections from one concept to another. This helped me to understand the course material rather than just relying on rote memorization. Most of my midterms were created such that I needed to connect two or three topics to be able to answer the questions—relying on just crunching through revision week-by-week wouldn’t have worked. As my studying technique resembled the requirements of my tests, I was able to answer questions confidently, efficiently, and to the best of my ability. You should try it too. Question both what you study and the order you study it in. Avoid long days looking at one topic only, or working week-by-week through the material when you’re reviewing. Mix it up!
  • Study groups: It can get frustrating when you constantly get stuck on a question or topic—and when we’re all online, sometimes there’s nobody to ask for help. At times last semester, it felt as though I was the only one who was struggling. Now I know that is far from the truth. After creating a study group with a few of my peers, I came to understand that many of us were stuck on similar topics. We helped each other throughout the semester in preparation for our midterms. I urge you to create a small study group of your peers, where all of you help each other become experts on course concepts! With remote learning, these study groups have played a huge role in preventing me and my peers from feeling isolated. If you’re stuck on who to ask, try looking for course-specific Facebook groups and posting to see if somebody would like to study with you.
  • Cue cards: I could honestly write a hundred-page essay on the effectiveness of cue cards. This has been my go-to studying technique for the past 5-6 years, and I have never looked back! Even the process of creating cue cards helps you get familiar with course content, and forces you to prioritize what’s most and least important (if you’re stuck, see write out a list of what your professor would think are the most important ideas in your course without looking at your notes). Testing yourself with cue cards is a form of active learning, as they require you to actively recall information—and, even better, by shuffling your deck, you’ll force yourself to do interleaving. Win-win! Try using an app like Quizlet to make your cards, since it will let you share cue card content with other students—helping each other revise for an exam together is a great way to find ways to connect socially and to make studying more fun!
  • Going for walks: Going on walks during the day was such a rejuvenating experience for me during midterm and finals season. Whenever I felt overwhelmed or mentally exhausted, I went on a walk with a friend or family member (socially distanced, of course!) around my neighbourhood for anywhere up to an hour. I got to catch up with other people, take a break from university, and also get in my physical activity for the day. I always felt refreshed and motivated to continue my studies when I returned home—indeed, the research says that the best kind of brain breaks are those that get you moving! While it was much easier to just pop on a sweater and head outside in October, I hope mother nature gives us some good weather for walks this month. If you’re stuck inside, why not try some yoga (like my fellow blogger Rahul) or a simple home workout. If you’re not sure how to get started, try booking a healthy lifestyle appointment with the staff at Wellness. They’ll help you, whatever your current fitness level, find ways to get healthy.
  • Turn off notifications. As I mentioned in my previous blogs, my goal this semester is to make my study periods as productive as possible. Since writing my last blog, I have tried to improve on this goal, but it has proven to be a very challenging target to achieve for someone whose attention span wouldn’t even make fly jealous! One day I feel like I am a productivity guru, but other days I need all the help I can get. With my favourite soccer team taking part in a major tournament and with the Toronto Raptors well into the NBA season, I seem to be refreshing my Instagram every few minutes to make sure I am not missing out on any new updates. With this in mind, my short-term goal is to avoid being tempted to check my phone repeatedly for updates. So far, turning off notifications from my ESPN app and Instagram has helped me improve my focus. Try turning off notifications from your favourite apps for the duration of midterm season!

I hope I’ve given you some motivation to accomplish your academic goals this midterm season. And as I’ve said, it’s just as important to take those breaks from studying—burning yourself out won’t help you get better. Stay safe and stay healthy Gaels!