Brandeis International Business School

Your guide to midterm exams

With the right study plan, students can master their course material and make the grade

Midterm exams are not the only opportunity for a student to showcase their knowledge and understanding of a particular course, but they are often the first indicator of how well a student is absorbing, processing and retaining the class material.

For students, midterms can offer an accurate barometer for judging if your current study strategy is effective, or if changes are required.

Do all classes have midterm exams?

All courses at Brandeis International Business School are either two or four credits. Four-credit courses last the whole semester and are more likely to have midterms, while two-credit or module courses are a half-semester long and typically do not. While final exams vary in four-credit courses, as some may have final projects or capstones instead, the norm for these classes is to have at least one midterm exam.

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When are midterm exams and what should I expect?

Midterm exams are typically held, unsurprisingly, in the middle of the semester. During the fall semester, which runs from late August to early December, midterms typically occur in October. During the spring semester, which starts in January and ends at the beginning of May, midterms are typically administered in March.

Unlike final exams, which are scheduled by the university’s Registrar, midterm exams are typically scheduled during class time by the professor. Some classes may have two midterm exams, in which case they are spread further throughout the semester. Professors outline these exams in the course syllabus, so they will not come as a surprise. The weight of each midterm exam on the final grade is also usually provided in the course syllabus. Many instructors are open to telling students about the format of the midterm exam, as well as the topics or themes that the exam will cover.

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What is the best way to prepare for a midterm and what resources are available to students?

The most effective way to feel prepared for a midterm exam is to first attend each class, and complete all of the homework assignments in a timely manner. One should also take advantage of the professor’s and the teaching assistant’s office hours when the class material is challenging or unclear. It is easier to correct these issues before a minor struggle becomes seemingly insurmountable.

It is smart to review previous homework assignments, go through the course’s slides and materials, and consult notes taken during each class. Typically, teaching assistants and professors hold additional office hours during the midterm period to allow students to raise their concerns and to get clarifications they might need on class material. It is also useful to know the duration and the format of the questions — whether they will be short answers, problems to solve out, multiple choice questions, etc. — so that students can cater their study guides and process to match.

How do you proceed after the midterm?

After the midterm exam, students who did well can be reassured that they have mastered the material. They should continue to work at the same pace on the material that follows to prepare for the final exam or project. They should also make sure that they understand any mistakes, to ensure they do not repeat them. It’s also a good idea to see if there were any gaps in their study strategy.

If students did not do as well on the midterm as they hoped, there are still ways to ensure success moving forward. Most professors will hold a review of the exam, and students should take advantage of one-on-one time with their professor and teaching assistant to make sure they fully grasp the material. The sooner this is done the better, as the pace of the course may pick up as the term progresses.

Sometimes it also helps to connect with friends in the class who may have done better on the exam, just to get a different perspective on the material. Students may also seek out a tutor to work with them on the material they are struggling with, but the important thing is that they do something. The ultimate goal is that they have a tailored study plan to ensure they will not repeat their mistakes. This is also important because the final exam might be cumulative, meaning it might cover the material from the beginning of the course, which includes the material on the midterm. Therefore, preparation is key. 

If after a conversation with the professor and a student’s academic advisor, they still feel like the course will pose an insurmountable challenge, they may elect to drop the class and take it in a later semester, or, depending on the timing, elect to take the course pass/fail, or switch to auditing the class.

What is the impact of the midterm exam on the final grade?

The impact of the midterm exam depends on the weight it is assigned by the professor. Generally speaking, this can be between 20 to 35%, leaving 65 to 80% of a student’s final grade on other components, such as homework assignments, class participation, final projects, etc. Receiving a bad grade on the midterm may not be an indicator that a student will do poorly overall. Students who did not do well on the midterm, however, will have to work harder to ensure they grasp the new material while addressing the concerns raised by their midterm performance. While this requires dedication and a lot of commitment, it is certainly possible to come out on top.

Student Insights features blog posts and videos produced by current students and recent graduates of Brandeis International Business School. The views, thoughts and opinions expressed here belong solely to the author.

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