4 Midterm Mistakes to Avoid

Midterm season can be a stressful time. You’ve made your study guide, attended study groups, and flipped through your flashcards one last time. However, on exam day, there are mistakes students often make when tackling the test. These mistakes can cost you points that may affect your overall grade in the course. Midterm exam mistakes can include poor time management, spending too much time on individual questions, and not showing your work. 

Your midterm exam grade can be crucial to your success in the course. So set yourself up for success—here are four midterm mistakes to avoid: 

Midterm mistake #1: Failing to read the instructions thoroughly and correctly

Sometimes, midterms are formatted differently than other tests you’ve taken in class. Read every instruction thoroughly multiple times in order to give yourself the best chance of success on every question. On your exam, without proper focus, you might find yourself:

  • Misreading the instructions by skipping over relevant content 
  • Interpreting the instructions incorrectly

Make sure that you understand the problem or prompt and what it’s asking you to do. If not, advocate for yourself and ask your professor. It’s imperative that you have clarity when completing your exam. 

Midterm mistake #2: Failing to properly manage your time 

The biggest restriction on a midterm is the time limit. Before you begin, make sure you know how much time you have to complete the test. Often, the time allotted can be different than a normal class period. Sometimes teachers will write the time remaining on the board, but don’t count on this. Make sure you have clear access to a clock or watch so you can time yourself. Before you begin tackling the questions on the midterm, take a moment to make a plan and see how much time you’ll need for each section of the exam. This is especially helpful on writing sections, so that you don’t run out of time in the middle of a paragraph.

Midterm mistake #3: Fixating on questions you don’t know the answer to 

Occasionally, there will be a question that covers material that you just don’t remember. Often, students will focus on this specific question, spending an excess amount of time attempting to come up with the answer. It can be tempting to stay on that question to figure it out. However, it can be helpful to put a star next to the question or circle it to return to it later. Spend the majority of your time on the questions that you’re confident in to ensure you receive those points. Once you’ve completed all of those questions, return to your trouble spots and make your best educated guess. 

Midterm mistake #4: Failing to show your work

This is more of a math-specific midterm mistake, but it can apply to other midterms as well. Students sometimes won’t show all of their work and will arrive at the incorrect answer. When no work is shown, no other credit can be given. Showing all of your work allows for more possibilities to earn points. 

This can also apply to midterms that involve writing. Perhaps you have a writing-dense midterm and run out of time to complete the last essay. If you’ve taken some time to outline bullet points of what you want to cover before you start writing, you can include those bullets at the end when you’re out of time. Those points aren’t guaranteed, but showing your work may pay off. 

Midterms can quickly become overwhelming. Stay on top of exam week by avoiding common test-taking mistakes. If you manage your time on the exam, revisit questions you don’t know the answer to, and always show your work, you can set yourself up for midterm success.