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Midterms coming up? Here’s how to survive and thrive during exam week

Midterms coming up? Here’s how to survive and thrive during exam week

Academic Advising Manager Alina Dominguez shares top tips for exam week, study habits and handling stress

September 23, 2021 at 2:19pm

Midterm exams are around the corner. For some students, midterms have already begun and are in full force.

If you’re in the thick of prepping for exams or anxiously wondering how you’ll get through midterms (and freaking out a little about the prospect), we’ve got you covered.

To get some helpful hints, FIU News spoke with Alina Dominguez, who has 10 years of experience advising students and is currently the manager of Academic Advising Services in the College of Arts, Sciences & Education.

What are some strategies or approaches that can help students during exams?

When I think about midterms, I often think about freshmen and sophomores. This is different than anything they’ve experienced before. The class pace is faster than they are used to, the exam format could be different.

There are a few things that they, along with all students, can do to adjust to college exams or help smooth out exam week, regardless of how long they've been in college.

When studying, perspective is important. Flip the perspective, and ask yourself, “What has the professor continuously emphasized? What are their main takeaways, what do they think is important?” Check the syllabus and see what the learning objectives and outcomes are. There’s a purpose behind those objectives. It’s meant to show what the professors want you to learn in the class.

A great way to study is to ask yourself, “What if I were the professor and I was writing the exam?” What content would you cover and how would you frame the question? If you’re a part of a study group, divide the chapters of the content, and have each member of the group create questions for their chapters. You can work on answering them and discussing the content among yourselves.

You’ll see you are learning in ways you’ve never learned before. In explaining the content to your group mates, you’re going to further solidify the concept.

What are some ways that students can manage the stress and anxiety that often come with prepping for exams?

You can tackle anxiety from different perspectives. The first is the band-aid option. The question here is, “What can you do to help bring down the levels of anxiety now?” You can hit the gym, connect with friends, get that anxiety out. This is also when you can go see what events related to de-stressing and wellness the Healthy Living Program is hosting or what events student groups are hosting (check on Panther Connect).

If you'd like to talk to someone about everything you're feeling or you want to learn more about ways to manage stress, check out the Counseling & Psychological Services (often referred to as CAPS), which offers a range of services for free to currently enrolled students. 

The other perspective on handling exam-related stress dives deeper into academics. The cause of anxiety is usually related to how prepared you feel for the exam. So, dedicate time to studying. But also remember that you need to carve out time to de-stress. One of the things that I’ve told students who’ve come in feeling anxious or who don’t know how to study well, is to chunk up the time. Study the content for a reasonable period of time, and then take a five to ten-minute break. During the break, do not go to your phone. This break is for you to de-stress.

I ask students, “What’s your favorite song, and what makes it your favorite song?” Put that song on. Listen to the loud music that you love. Reward yourself, dance around like a maniac or do a seat dance if you’re wearing earphones sitting in the library.

Just make sure it breaks up the monotony of sitting down, studying and gives you a boost of energy. You’re reprogramming yourself. When you do this, you’re telling yourself, “I’ve got the energy to keep going.”


How can students stay focused and motivated even if they begin to doubt how well they’ll do on the exam?

It’s important to discern clutter. Negative self-talk doesn’t have a place in our minds. If you know you have to do well on this exam, you can say to yourself once, "I have to try to do well." Then don’t think about that anymore. Just do. The next step is, 'I have a plan for studying, a plan to do as best as I can in my situation right now.' 

If you’re dealing with problems at home or in your job or going through a particularly stressful period, be kind to yourself. Or if you know you dropped the ball and have a lot of ground to make up in your class, just keep going. Don’t beat yourself up. It’s completely unrealistic to learn an entire semester in one week.

If you find yourself in that situation, number one, figure out, how did you get there? Why did you end up here? Did you not like the content? Did you not manage your time well? Did you bail out? Do you not like the major? Every time we have a small success or failure, we’re learning what works and what doesn’t work. Keep that in mind always.

"Negative self-talk doesn’t have a place in our minds. If you know you have to do well on this exam, you can say to yourself once, "I have to try to do well." Then don’t think about that anymore. Just do. The next step is, 'I have a plan for studying, a plan to do as best as I can.'" 

-Alina Dominguez, Manager of Academic Advising Services at the College of Arts, Sciences & Education

What are some major resources students should take advantage of as they prepare for exams – and all throughout the semester?

FIU has so many resources that it's really important to take advantage of them. There is free tutoring through the Center for Academic Success. The team can help students by suggesting different ways to study, providing tutoring on a number of subjects and helping students brush up on reading skills.

If you need help with time management or figuring out ways to succeed in your academics, there are also coaches available to you through the College Life Coaching team. These are just two of the many resources. 

Also, talk to your professor! Go to office hours, ask your professor about the material as soon as something doesn’t make sense. Think through what your gap in knowledge is and what study strategies you need to tweak. Ask your professor for help.

Professors are people, too. It’s important to make connections with people. You’re not alone in this, you are part of a community. Professors have a lot of information they can give you. Students may think professors are intimidating, but the wealth of knowledge professors offer is beyond the content.

A professor or faculty member can share about their own career growth. How did they get here? What life lessons did they learn? What was their college experience? When you connect with them far beyond the content to talk about your goals, that’s where true wealth occurs. Those authentic connections are based on conversations.

An important thing about all of these resources, though, is that you utilize them in advance. Yes, you can get some help through tutoring or a conversation one day before the midterm exam, but is that really what you need? You should be utilizing these resources the moment you feel like you've missed something being taught in class or even as soon as the semester starts, just to build up that strong foundation and academic support that will help you for exam time.

If you waited too late this time around to seek out the resources, don’t make the same mistake again! Start utilizing the resources now, so you’ll be ready for the next exams.  

Take time for self-care: Hang out with friends or take a coffee break with a buddy

This story is part of a series featuring expert tips directly from academic advisors addressing topics relevant to students and their success. In the series, advisors share valuable insight and students pick up bite-sized information to help them throughout their journey.