It's Time for a Reality Check!

First-year college students and the importance of midterm evaluations.

Posted Sep 23, 2019

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The fall semester is in full swing. First-year college students have likely mostly adjusted to their new educational circumstances and made some friends in the process. They are also soon-to-begin one of their first rites of passage: midterm evaluations.

Midterms occur about halfway through a semester and usually take the form of an exam in each college course (or some other grading instruments, like quizzes or papers). The idea of midterm evaluations is to give students a snapshot of how they are progressing so far in their courses. One way to look at the evaluation is this: If a course grade were given now, what would it be?

Midterm exams and other evaluations can be a much-needed wake-up call for many students, especially those in their first year—indeed, first semester or quarter—in college. Mediocre or poor performance at midterm doesn’t bode especially well for the final course grade that will be given in December or thereabouts.

Many first-year students aren't used to the freedom that college provides—and most professors don’t track individual student performance the way it's done back in high school. In fact, many freshmen are shocked when they get their midterms, and they are not doing as well as they supposed.

The good news is that there is still time to pull out of any unfortunate nosedives, and that, in fact, is the logic underlying midterm evaluations. So, here are some suggestions for any student about to enter midterm evaluations (though this is aimed especially at first-year students):

  • Try to calculate or determine your likely grade in each class before doing any midterm exams or other assignments. If you aren’t sure where you stand, go to your instructors’ office hours and ask. Don’t wait for a surprise notification, one that your academic advisor will also receive.
  • Plan how and when you prepare for midterm exams a week or two before they are scheduled. Don’t cram for exams—spread out your study across several sessions for each exam. If you don’t understand key material, make an appointment with your instructor and/or visit available tutors (if any are available).
  • Make a plan for drafting and writing any papers or related assignments well before they are due. Work steadily and consistently on them. If your instructor is willing to read rough drafts, take your paper to his or her office hours for feedback.
  • Get plenty of sleep (eight hours, no more and no less), eat well, and get some exercise as the midterm week approaches.
  • Don’t sabotage your performance by procrastinating on the above or by partying the week of midterms. Save the fun until all your work is done.
  • After you receive your midterm evaluations, go see your instructor(s) for any class where you did less well than you expected. Find out what you can do to turn things around. Let your academic advisor know that you spoke with your instructor(s).
  • If you end up receiving any unsatisfactory or failing notices at midterm, don’t panic—but go see your instructor(s) and academic adviser, respectively, immediately. Pretending like nothing is wrong won’t change anything—it will only lead to more stress and upset in the long run.
  • If you are not studying enough, you still have half a semester to rectify your study habits. Make a plan of dedicated study time where you won’t be bothered by friends or distracted by video games, Netflix, and the like. Try a quiet location in the library or an empty classroom.

Try and maintain your academic momentum after midterms are over—it will be Thanksgiving break before you know it, and the semester will end. Work to have it end with a celebratory bang and not a whimper about what your grades might have been. Good luck!


Dunn, D. S., & Halonen, J. S. (2020). The psychology major's companion: Everything you need to know to get where you want to go (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Worth.