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4 Tips for Tackling Midterm Essays

Midterms are approaching fast! Get ready to ace your essays with these four tips. 

By
Varsity Tutors, Writing for,
midterm review

Midterms often have a tendency of sneaking up on you. One minute you’re starting the semester and settling into a routine, and the next you’re facing a midterm exam that will have a major impact on your grade. While this can prompt a great deal of stress, midterms can be successfully tackled with thoughtful planning and preparation. One style midterm you may encounter incorporates essays. Depending on your teacher and course, the essay could be given in class during the allotted midterm exam time, or in the form of a take-home assignment.

There are many strategies you can implement to ace your midterm essay. Keep reading to learn four tips for tackling midterm essays this fall. 

1. Take good notes and use them wisely

As mentioned above, depending on the class or instructor, your midterm essay might be written in class or completed as a take-home assignment. Regardless, your most important task is to showcase a high-level of understanding of the material the class has covered so far. Set yourself up for success by going to class and taking detailed notes. Pay close attention to recurring themes and note the questions and topics from any previous quizzes or assignments. 

Going through your notes after each class will further cement the information in your brain.

Additionally, don’t wait until right before it’s time to write your essay to review your notes. Going through your notes after each class will further cement the information in your brain. It can also help to work with a study group, as sharing notes can help fill in any gaps you might have regarding the material. 

2. Manage your time wisely

Whether you’re writing the essay outside of class or in an exam setting, you’ll need to have a strategy for using your time wisely. 

In the case of a take-home essay exam, this is as simple as giving yourself deadlines for each stage. For example, create a schedule for making an outline, writing a first draft, making revisions, and finalizing your essay. Make sure you allow time for proofreading to avoid any last-minute errors.

With an in-class essay, you’ll need to budget your time carefully. As an example, let’s say you have 90 minutes to complete your essay. Your strategy could look like this:

  • 15 minutes to process what the essay prompt is asking and create a basic outline and thesis statement. Make sure the main points of your outline support the thesis. 

  • Five minutes to write your introduction.

  • One hour to write the body of your essay, following your outline of key points.

  • Five minutes to write a conclusion. 

  • Five minutes to proofread and finalize.

3. Understand what to expect 

Find out as much as you can about the exam in advance. Sometimes, this can be as simple as reviewing your syllabus, which may give more details. Or, you may need to ask your instructor or attend an extra study session. It can be helpful to understand the following:

  • Will the in-class midterm exam be one essay question or multiple? 

  • Will you be given a choice of what question to answer? 

  • For a take-home essay, are you allowed to collaborate with other class members in any way? 

All of these questions can affect how you prepare for the midterm essay, so it’s best to gather as much information as you can. 

Find out as much as you can about the exam in advance.

4. Focus on the details

With a midterm essay, you’re often expected to show your broad understanding of the material. Pay attention to facts and examples from class and your text, and try to incorporate terms or concepts that have been prominent in the class lectures. 

Another way to be detail-oriented is with the essay question itself. Watch for words that give a clue as to what kind of answer is appropriate. For example, if the prompt asks you to “describe” or “define” something, this will be a simpler, more objective response, while words like “interpret” or “evaluate” signal the need for more analysis.

Lora Wegman is a contributing writer for Varsity Tutors, a live learning platform that connects students with personalized instruction to accelerate academic achievement.     

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Varsity Tutors, Writing for Grammar Girl

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