Midterm exams are stressful for many students: unlike final exams, they occur during a regularly scheduled full week of classes. Students must try to fit their study time in while still attending their regular classes and, of course, fulfilling job and family obligations. Plus, there’s often a lot riding on the results of exams and term papers.That’s why it’s so easy to feel overwhelmed in the middle of a semester. As CollegeParentsCentral.com reminds us,
“It’s a time of stress for college students. It is also a time when your student can both look backward and look forward. A lot has happened in the first half of the semester, but there is also an entire second half to either build on the successes of the first half or turn things around.”
I see a lot of panicked students during my office hours at this time of the semester. I also get tons of emails from distressed students, and even see students drop out or officially withdraw from their courses. Parents report that at this time of the semester they field desperate and distressing phone calls from their overwhelmed college student children.
You can avoid the mid-semester meltdown, though! Many college and universities offer support to help students make it through this notorious crunch time. For example, Kalamazoo Valley Community College in Michigan holds a 10-day Mid-semester Reality Check, a program of events and workshops on such varied topics as how to write better research papers, tips for effective studying, and reducing anxiety.
In addition to taking advantage of any support programs offered by your school, you can also take these seven steps toward maintaining your equilibrium and getting through not only the midterm period, but the rest of the semester as well:
- Evaluate your schedule: Sit down and take a good long look at your schedule. Has it been working for you? You can’t change your class times around at this point, but you can look at how you’ve scheduled study time into your routine. Does it still make sense, or can you adjust things to work better? For example, if you find that you have skipped a number of class sessions, it may be because your current schedule doesn’t work for you and you’re too tired or drained to go to class. That has to stop. The best way to do better in school is to go to class. Make the necessary changes that will allow you to do so. You should also make note of the due dates of all future assignments, exams, etc. One of my students just earned a zero on the midterm exam because he simply forgot to look on the syllabus and didn’t bother to show up that day. Don’t let that happen to you!
- Assess your course standing: This morning a student asked me what her grade was so far in the course. I had no idea. While I can look in my grade book to see what scores her work has earned so far, it’s not the instructor’s job to calculate an individual student’s class standing at all times. Most schools require every syllabus to include a course breakdown of assignments and the percentage of the final grade they are each worth. Look over your grades, do the math, and figure it out. It’s also a good idea to look at your instructor’s comments on your work. If there are similar or repeated comments, you need to work on those issues to improve your course performance. For example, a red flag would be if your instructor has asked what your thesis is on every one of your papers.
- Meet with your instructor: Once you have determined your class standing and taken note of any consistent problems in your course work, see your instructor during his or her office hours or schedule an appointment to see them. Explain that you want to improve your work by addressing their comments, and ask them to show you how to fix any problems. Do not tell them what kind of grade you “need to get” in the course. Focus on how to improve the work. At this time you can also ask any questions you may have about the remainder of the semester’s assignments.
- Consult tutors and academic support services: It’s possible that problems you have with your work may be related to learning issues more than to course material. If your instructor is unable to help you with these issues, make an appointment to speak with a learning specialist at your school. This can be done on both traditional face-to-face colleges as well as in online programs.
- Gather resources for term papers and final projects: If you have a final paper or project due towards or at the end of the semester, get started on it now if you haven’t already. Make sure you are on the right track by discussing your topic with your instructor, compiling a bibliography with help from the library, and reading and taking notes on your materials. This will ensure that your work will be thorough and you will avoid producing last-minute, hasty work that can lower your grade.
- Register for next term’s classes: Don’t be left out in the cold, trying to enroll in a class that no longer has any availability. This can delay graduation and cause complications for your financial aid. Mid-semester is a good time to look at your program requirements and sit down with your advisor to plan the next semester, find out what classes are offered, and enroll in them. It’s also a good idea to check your financial aid and make sure that you have everything you need for next semester.
- Mental and Physical Health Check: It’s pretty common for students to neglect their well-being at stressful times. In fact, The Journal of Adolescent Health reported a few years ago that students lose more sleep over stress than they do from partying too much (though that can negatively affect your health, too!) According to the study, only 30% of students get enough sleep at night. I see the results of this all the time-students fall asleep in class, oversleep and miss class or come late, are too tired to focus and learn effectively. This goes back to my first suggestion: check your schedule and make adjustments so that you can take care of yourself. Also, make an appointment to see a physician if you have ongoing symptoms such as headaches, exhaustion, etc. Finally, try to make time for well-being activities such as yoga, exercise, or meditation. Being well-rested and relaxed will help you handle stress more effectively, and help you maintain the energy you need to fulfill your obligations.
Remember, mid-semester is stressful for everyone. Even your instructors are not immune to mid-semester woes, either. One public school teacher wrote on her blog that “It happened one night mid-October last semester, and it happened again today. Feeling like I can’t keep my head up, and a slight panic about the coming months isn’t helping.”
There’s no getting around it: the mid-semester period is full of heavy workloads, anxiety, and overwork for everyone in academia. But you can take these seven steps to avoid having a mid-semester meltdown and finish the academic term successfully!
Do you have any other suggestions that will help students survive mid-semester? Submit them below!