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Help Your Student Adjust to College AcademicsSuzanne Shaffer
Midterms are almost here, and your first-year college student may need extra support.
What are midterms? Halfway through the semester (possibly much earlier than your student expects!), the faculty conspire to inundate students with tests, projects and papers scheduled as closely together as possible.
Professors aren’t really out to get your student but it may feel that way, and midterms present a big challenge to first- and even second-year students who are still refining their time management skills.
I spoke with a few recent graduates to find out what helped them make it through midterms. They all agreed: the best thing your student can do is to start early. “Giving yourself plenty of time to study is especially important for your first round or two of exams since you aren’t yet familiar with the format,” Tamara noted.
Even if your student has stayed on top of coursework, they may still feel overwhelmed. (If you haven’t already shared our academic success checklists with your student — there's one for parents, too! — now’s a good time.)
Here’s advice you can give when you hear the following cries of despair from your student:
While some professors provide detailed study guides, others offer little guidance. “When I had questions, I found it helpful to go to office hours and meet one-on-one with the professor,” Melissa recalled.
Teaching assistants are also great resources, and many departments offer extra drop-in study sessions during exam periods. Students shouldn’t expect to have the exact test questions revealed, but they can make sure they’re covering the most important topics and get clarification on any content they find confusing.
Multiple courses, outside activities and maybe a campus job are already competing for your student’s time and attention. The midterm workload on top of all that can produce panic. Encourage your student to reach out to others taking the same classes. “Talking about what we learned and comparing notes helped me most. I was stressed about any kind of test my first semester — just having someone to talk to about it helped me a lot,” Malcolm said.
More good advice to share: take regular study breaks. It may be difficult to convince them that they can stop studying for even a minute, but sacrificing sleep and self-care will hurt them and their grades. Sleep-deprived students are more likely to get sick, and brains need healthy fuel to function optimally. “It was important during midterms to schedule down time,” Melissa said.
Parents can help by sharing health tips with their students and by sending a care package — include healthy food along with something fun (my mom would send a silly game or toy, reminding me to take some time out for myself).
Once exams are underway, be sure to give your student the space they need to stay focused. You can lift their spirits with an email, letter or care package — no response required. They’ll know you’re thinking of them, and that you believe in them. They can make it through midterms!
Your student may need your support as much after midterms as before. If they see grades that are lower than what they used to get in high school, their self-confidence may be shaken. A parent's response can affect whether a student views a disappointing grade as a sign of their ability (“I guess that’s the best I can do…”) or useful information about what works and what doesn’t, along with an opportunity to improve their study routine.
When your college student starts their first semester, it’s not just a big deal for them. It’s a big deal for you, too. Get the First Semester Guide for College Parents now!