Study Habits to Help You Conquer the Mid-Semester Crunch

When mid-terms are just around the corner, it’s difficult to think of anything else. Essays, tests, group projects—when will it end? Until your time is yours again, here are some tips to stay on top of things so that you don’t feel like you are getting buried under a mountain of papers and deadlines.


Know what you have to do

It is hard to manage your time and know what to study if you aren’t clear on what you have to do. Understanding your course requirements is more than being aware of the deadline dates for your exams and assignments.

The first place to look for more information is your course syllabus. Often neglected by students, your course syllabus offers a wealth of information. It should include key learning objectives for the course and a description of the course content. Giving it a review will help you understand what your professor hopes you will learn.

In addition to reading your syllabus, talk to your professor. Students are often fearful of approaching a teacher—maybe you don’t want to sound stupid or are unsure of what to say—but this can actually help your marks, especially around assignment time. Try asking these questions:

  • What is it you want me to take away from this class?
    • Answers to this question will help you determine if the professor wants you to grasp small details or understand more general concepts.
  • What are your expectations when it comes to class participation?
    • This is good to know from the beginning of the year. If you have anxiety about participating in class, ask if there are ways you could make up for this.
  • Will you review my essay outline during office hours?
    • While a professor will not critique your entire essay, many professors are willing to look at your outline to help determine if you are on the right track.


Make an effort to manage your time

Start by thinking about how much new information you could reasonably absorb (requires Adobe Reader) in a day, among all of the other things you have to do. If you do five hours of reading but can only take in about an hour’s worth of content, it would be more beneficial to study for only that one hour.

We all get behind from time to time. If you feel you are losing control, the best thing to do is stay calm, start small, and take it one step at a time. Even if it means doing your readings in 15-minute chunks before bed each night, it’s better than cramming it all in before an exam.

Don’t feel bad about setting aside time to have fun, even if you are really busy. Having activities to look forward to can get you through those particularly difficult study sessions!


Change your perspective

Research shows that how you approach studying can affect how you study. If hitting the books is something you see as a chore, you will be more distracted and it will be difficult for the concepts to sink in. I have a friend in biology who turns what she is reading into a cartoon in her head, where molecules are characters interacting with each other—like a soap opera!


Read ahead of time to save time

Believe it or not, doing your readings before class will save you hours of study time. Why? Because the information you have read will be put into context in the classroom, and, as a result, will be more easily remembered. All of the details that you weren’t sure about in your readings will become clearer in class, and you will have the opportunity to ask questions about the content you have read shortly after reading it; this will also help to solidify those pieces of information in your memory. Essentially, reading ahead of your class functions like reading the chapter twice. The end result being that, come exam time, you will be in a better frame of mind and more likely to remember all of those details.


Find patterns

One thing that graduate students typically do well is to “categorize.” But students of all ages can benefit from this study technique! This means noticing patterns and links, and chunking all similar information together. This strategy can help you remember a large amount of information at once. An example of how to put this strategy into practice is using mnemonic devices to help you remember larger amounts of content. To remember the order of musical notes in a scale, pianists remember “Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge,” with the first letter of each word corresponding to a musical note.


Get to know the resources you have access to

There are many resources you can access to help you do well in school. Consider taking advantage of one (or all) of the following:

  • Study groups – Your classmates may start a group, or you could start your own! Groups are a great way to test your knowledge and deepen your understanding of key concepts. It is also a good opportunity to learn new study tips from other good students.
  • Past exams – For certain courses, exams from previous years may be available for review. Check with library services, or ask your professor if access to past tests is possible. Even if it is from ten years ago, the key testing concepts will be unlikely to have changed.
  • Note-taking workshops (requires Adobe Reader) – Knowing what to write down in a hurry can be a difficult task. Sometimes schools offer seminars or workshops on effective note-taking. This may be offered through different programs, so check your student handbook or contact Accessibility Services.
  • Accessibility services – Not everyone studies and writes tests in the same way. If you struggle with understanding content quickly or you need extra time to write tests and exams, your school’s Accessibility Services department can provide you with the extra support you need.

Getting all of this new information to stick in your head can be challenging—especially with the added pressure of exams. With a little bit of practice, some good studying strategies, and access to helpful resources, you can definitely succeed!


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(Last reviewed December 3, 2013)

  1. Ames, C., & Archer, J. (1988). Achievement goals in the classroom: Students’ learning strategies and motivation processes. Journal of Educational Psychology, 80, 260–267.
  2. Psych Central. (2010). Memory and Mnemonic Devices. Retrieved from
  3. van Den Hurk, M. (2006). The relation between self-regulated strategies and individual study time, prepared participation and achievement in a problem-based curriculum. Active Learning in Higher Education, 7, 155–169.
  4. Vrugt, A., & Oort, F.J. (2008). Metacognition, achievement goals, study strategies and academic achievement: Pathways to achievement. Metacognition and Learning, 3, 123–146. Retrieved from

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