How to support your student during midterms

Midterms are almost here, and your college freshman may need extra support. What are midterms? Halfway through the semester (possibly much earlier than your student expects!), the faculty conspire to inundate students with tests, projects, and papers scheduled as closely together as possible. While professors aren’t really out to get your student, it can feel that way, and midterms can present a big challenge to first- and even second-year students who are still refining their time management skills.

I spoke with a few recent graduates to find out what helped them navigate midterms over their college careers. They all agreed: the best thing your student can do is to start early. “Giving yourself plenty of time to study is especially important for your first round or two of exams since you aren’t yet familiar with the format,” Tamara noted. Even if your student has stayed on top of coursework, she may still feel overwhelmed.

Here’s advice you can give when you hear the following cries of despair from your student as midterms approach:

“I have no idea what to study for the exam!”

While some professors provide detailed study guides, others offer little guidance. “When I had questions, I found it helpful to go to office hours and meet one-on-one with the professor,” Melissa recalled. Teaching assistants are also great resources, and many departments offer extra drop-in study sessions during exam periods. Your student shouldn’t expect to have the exact questions laid out for her, but she can make sure she’s covering the most important topics and get clarification on any content she finds confusing.

“I’m buried in papers, projects, and exams — I don’t have time to do it all!”

Multiple courses and co-curricular activities are already competing for your student’s time and attention and, the midterm workload on top of all that can produce panic. Encourage your student to reach out to others taking the same classes. “Talking about what we learned and comparing notes helped me most. I was super stressed about any kind of test in my first semester — just having someone to talk to about it helped me a lot,” Moria said.

Another key: advise your student to take regular study breaks. It may be difficult to convince her that she can stop studying for even a minute, but sacrificing sleep and self-care will hurt her and her grades. Sleep-deprived students are more likely to get sick, and brains need healthy fuel to function optimally. “It was definitely nice during midterms to schedule a down time to relieve some stress,” Melissa said. Parents can help by sharing health tips with their students and by sending a care package — include healthy food along with something fun (my mom would send a silly game or toy, reminding me to take some time out for myself).

Once exams are underway, be sure to give your student the space she needs to stay focused. You can lift her spirits with a quick email, letter, or care package — no response required. She’ll know you’re thinking of her, and that you believe in her. She can make it through midterms!

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