As the third week of the semester draws to a close, midterms are officially upon us. B-level and C-level are slowly beginning to fill up, and it is becoming more and more difficult to reserve a study room unless you decide you want it at least twelve hours in advance. Just as we were all beginning to settle into the spring semester, the tidal wave that is week four has hit. I learned this last semester, but the stress doesn’t dissipate regardless of how long you anticipate it. I’m not going to lie, it doesn’t help that I got sick last week for the first time in over a year, and my coughs seem to reverberate across C-level for the entire Hopkins community to hear. Still, the world doesn’t stop for a cold; by 6PM on Monday the 23rd, I will have taken 3 midterms and handed in an essay. I’m not here to complain, and it’s not like I have it worse than anybody else, but this is usually about the time when things start getting difficult. There are high points and low points in every semester, and I hate to say it, but I’d be lying if I said this was a high.
Midterm exams often make you question your knowledge of the content in a class and your ability to study effectively. When they hit you all at once, you even find yourself questioning your major, your intelligence, and sometimes you’ll wonder if you even belong here if the stress is consuming enough. I am more than half way through my freshman year (extremely brief tangent: how?), and I’ve never doubted my belonging here, but there always seems to be someone who understands the material better, faster, and with more ease. Buckling down and doing the work doesn’t always seem to be enough, and for an ultra-perfectionist like me, sometimes that’s enough to bring me down. In high school it seemed fairly simple; do your homework, study for your tests, and start your papers early. It was a guaranteed recipe for success, but it doesn’t seem to work like that anymore. At the end of last semester, I wrote one of my blogs about finally figuring out the most effective ways to study, but even equipped with that knowledge, midterms can seem daunting (especially when all three are for science classes and one of them is physics).
My goal is not to discourage people from choosing a challenging major. I don’t intend to incite fear or create unnecessary worries, but with midterms on my mind, I’m almost unable to focus on anything else at the moment. Midterms are never fun; in my eighteen years, I’ve never seen anybody exhilarated by the thought of an exam, excited to wake up at 9AM on a Monday for a chemistry exam, or at 8AM on a Friday for physics.
But we do it.
It’s important to remember that no matter how many alternatives we as students feel could substitute exams, this is just the way it is. There is not a college in the country where exams don’t cause stress or anxiety. I have two sisters at universities that couldn’t be more different from this one, and we all bond over this distress. While I’m on the subject though, I’d like to bust a common myth: just because it’s Hopkins doesn’t mean our lives are infinitely more stressful. Is this a challenging university? Absolutely, but the opportunities granted to students here simply can’t be beat, and that’s what makes going here incredibly worth it.
So with that, I think it’s important to remember a few things. We are still freshmen, and that doesn’t give us the right to slack off or do poorly, but it’s okay to take a step back and remember that the learning process is really just beginning. We have to be organized and stay calm, because psyching ourselves out and finding that we can’t even hold a pen upright because our hands are shaking so badly will not help us finish on time. (I know about that one from personal experience — the first Calculus III midterm from last semester was not my proudest moment.) Professors here are more than willing to answer our questions, and love students who frequent their office hours. Take practice exams early, and figure out what you need help with before it’s too late.
There are a million lessons to learn from each round of midterms, and even though it is anything but a fun and carefree time, we are here to learn and master skills. Good stress relievers will save you (mine are blogging and sharing my physics woes with my friend Jasmine) and midterms don’t last forever. By my next blog, they will all be over, and even though it’s scary now, that is quite a comforting thought.