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Year One: Helpful tips on surviving midterm season

By Aymen Sherwani, October 21 2021—

It’s that time of the year again. We’re officially knee-deep in midterm season and — contrary to popular belief —  no amount of multi-coloured highlighters and cursive headings can save you from the inevitable horde of assignments, papers and exams coming your way. And that’s speaking from personal experience as a bright-eyed first-year whose pretty notes and digital pens did not save me, unfortunately. I know what it feels to think that you have your life together during the semester only to be slammed, day after day, for a month and a half, barely make it out alive at the end of the semester, wondering where your high school study habits failed you. Shifting those gears was one of the most monumental changes in my life, so here are some habits that I developed and still use to this day to survive midterm season. 

Schedule your entire semester:

This seems relatively straightforward, but in my opinion, scheduling is a twofold process. I like to create a weekly reading schedule, with the required materials listed for all of my classes alongside personal reminders for when they should be completed to ensure that I’m on track to being prepared for the exams. At the same, your monthly semester-long schedule should include all of your academic and work deadlines to give you a holistic picture of when you should start preparing for each assignment or exam. However, when it comes to the nitty-gritty details of when to start studying — play it safe and give yourself a one-and-a-half to two-week window. 

This is more than enough time to prepare for a midterm. Even if you haven’t been consistent with your readings, giving yourself a two week headstart on studying rather than starting the night before can make or break your grade. With COVID-19 restrictions looming overhead as a constant threat to this academic semester, we should all be preparing for the worst.  

Create a reward-based study system: 

As a first-year university student who was gifted throughout their whole academic career, there was nothing more mentally debilitating than adapting to my first semester at university. Should you not possess the habits needed to keep on top of your grades, burnout will hit you like a truck. In the aforementioned monthly schedule, make sure to set aside days every month for yourself to do anything but work or studying — maybe head out to the mountains for a refreshing summit hike or go brunching with your besties. I entered university priding myself on how little sleep I was getting or how I was so busy that my first meal was at 5 p.m., but that kind of lifestyle led me to get sick every other week, with dark circles beginning to live rent-free on my face. Rewarding yourself with a weekend dedicated to what you love motivates you for work and academics. It also allows you to explore the person that you will transform into in the years to come. 

What also helps is dividing up your readings by page numbers, and telling yourself something like, “if I read 15 pages today and tomorrow, I’ll go out the night after.” It leaves you feeling like you deserve to go out, rather than constantly being anxious about piling deadlines that will ultimately be unavoidable. Slowly working away at your readings and rewarding yourself for the little things is key here. 

Actually go to your classes:

I might be alone in saying this, but sometimes I genuinely feel bad for my professors when it’s the middle of the semester and lecture halls are barely half full anymore. Sometimes, they’ll throw out a passive-aggressive thank you to the students that did show up before commencing their lectures, but if they’re out for blood, they’ll heavily base the exams on those lectures. What people don’t realize early on is that going to classes isn’t just for taking notes. If your courses are more writing-based, take the time to observe your professors and truly understand their perspectives on the lecture material. This will serve you well during paper-writing and essay-based examinations. 

Make note of what professors emphasize and what you observe to be their ideologies. Subsequently, engage with the course through that framework. Basically, regurgitate their thoughts and opinions onto paper when it comes to short- or-long answer questions — while you will often find professors that you fundamentally disagree with, when it comes to a letter grade, rather than trying to debate a professor, it’s better to let them know that you’re picking up what they’re putting down in lectures.

Year One is a column about the first-year experience at the University of Calgary.  This column is part of our Voices section and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Gauntlet’s editorial board.

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