By Marisa Wesker (she/her/hers), Peer Success Leader, 2019-2020
Read time: <5 minutes
The sinking feeling, the racing heart… you watch your professor move through the rows, passing out upside-down packets of pages, ink marks visible through the thin paper. A packet is thrust before you, and you take it automatically and turn it over without thinking. You see a letter at the top of the page, circled in red ink.
Sound familiar? It’s midterm season, and that means exams, papers, and group projects are coming back with grades, comments, and perhaps even a note saying “see me” in the margins. Though it’s tempting to brush aside midterms with a swipe of one’s forehead and a quip of “thank god that’s over,” let’s take a moment to understand why midterms matter: they tell us where we are and show us where we are going.
First, where are we? To find out, you have to actually look at your grades. That might mean having the courage to flip through the recently-graded exam or hopping on Canvas to calculate because the online weighting system is always glitchy. If your professor is ~technologically challenged~ and doesn’t post grades, try to do some averaging yourself based on past assignments. Also, find your syllabus and take a peek at each grade’s weight. That C on a paper that’s only worth 10 percent of your final grade is better than one that’s worth 30 percent.
The next step in determining where you are is finding out how you got there. If you’re doing well on homework and poorly on exams, is there a reason? Are you mismanaging your time, allotting too much for less important assignments? Is one area, such as participation or attendance, glaringly low-scoring? Try to see if there are outliers in your midterm grades and reflect on their causes.
While you’re feeling introspective, take a trip through memory lane and ask yourself what habits you’ve developed since late August. Do you partake in frequent all-night study sessions? Ever attended Supplemental Instruction or tutoring? Have you (really) ever (actually) written a second draft?
There are no call-outs here. We ALL do these things. Every student at Tulane has skipped out on an extra step that could have contributed to their success. That is okay! It’s not your job to be perfect. (I’ll say again for those in the back.) It’s not your job to be perfect. I’ll be the first one to say that I find this process terrifying. Confronting my evaluations and evaluators can be incredibly validating or incredibly disheartening.
A concept to keep in mind: what’s done is done. Self-evaluation is not a punishment. It’s helpful to know how you’ve gotten to wherever you are in order to pursue your goals.
So, where are you going? If you’re on the exact trajectory for what success means to you, then go home! Stop reading! You’re killing the game and we are proud of you. :) If you’re the other 99 percent of us (myself very much included), then it’s time to think about where the disparity between your direction and your goal is.
One of the most common struggles that students face is a miscommunication or personality clash with faculty. During my sophomore year, a professor and I simply did not see eye to eye on how the work for the class should be done. He wanted hard data, and I kept trying to argue that data meant nothing without background and storytelling. I’m not proud to say I continued to do what I wanted, not what he asked, and… I got C's. Finally, at the beginning of November, I went to his office hours with my most recent paper and asked him to explain exactly what he wanted. He obliged, and I changed the way I wrote for the rest of the semester. I climbed from C’s to B’s, and his attitude toward me improved markedly. I’m naturally stubborn, so I was inclined to convince him that my way was the right way, but in the end, your professors are the ones who give you the grades. If you two aren’t jiving, it’s best to ask them, face to face, exactly what they’re looking for and how you can give it to them. Even if complying feels antithetical to your values, it’s much easier to work in a way you don’t like than to explain a D on your transcript.
Another extremely common habit among students is the ever-present procrastination. How can we force ourselves to do something we’re dreading? I’ve found the best way to avoid procrastinating (again, imperfectly) is to set up a reward system. I love food and running, so I’ll tell myself, If you work on your paper for x amount of time, you can take a break and eat cookies or Once you’ve studied through chapter three, you can go for a run and take as long as you want. Find what motivates you and use it to your advantage! Start with small increments of time and work your way up as you start to break the habit of procrastination. Just like, at one point, we all stopped sucking our thumbs and biting our nails, this is a habit you can break.
Maybe you just tanked. You didn’t study enough, you went out the night before your exam, you wrote your paper in three hours, your parents were in town, you and your girlfriend broke up… life happens. It’s okay! If something happened that you couldn’t have planned for (unexpected travel, emotional crises, etc.), it’s worth talking to your professor and potentially asking for a re-take. I know it’s tempting to just take the L and abandon your hopes for the semester, but don’t! Feel free to throw yourself a (small) pity party — order Insomnia, watch The Office, and let the dishes pile up — for a day. Take a break, but once you’re done, take a shower, eat some vegetables, and come back with twice as much vigor and inspiration to make the second half of the semester your collegiate peak.
College asks a lot of us. It asks us for our thoughts, our knowledge, our time, our energy. Those things are not without value — it’s important to remember that. YOU are valuable and a bad midterm doesn’t change that. Of course it doesn’t, you think. I am valid, etc, etc. You already know this, I know. But I’ve got to remind you that, as essential as college is to a professional life, it’s not the end all, be all of your existence. Recognize who you are outside of your academic career. Use the skills you already posses to maximize your success here, but don’t let it overwhelm you.
You CAN do this. And if you ever feel like you can't, that’s what we’re here for.
Utilize the following Success resources to help you bounce back from midterms:
A Peer Success Leader is another Tulane student whose is trained by our Success Coaches and can provide support and encouragement to you as you navigate the challenges associated with adjusting to college.
Learn more about the PSL program here.
A PSL will partner with you to identify obstacles to success and facilitate behavioral and mindset changes to overcome these barriers. Some of the barriers to success that PSLs may assist with include but are not limited to:
Whether you are looking for a place to study between classes, a tutor for Organic Chemistry, or group study sessions, the Academic Learning & Tutoring Center can help.
The ALTC offers individual peer tutoring services, course-based weekly group sessions through supplemental instruction, and academic skills coaching. This space is also available for individual and group study and offers whiteboard tables, free tea and coffee, free printing, and access to software such as Adobe Creative Suite.
Learn more about the ALTC and its services here.
Also housed in the Academic Learning & Tutoring Center, the Academic Writing Center has trained consultants who can offer feedback at any stage of the writing process. The Academic Writing Center also provides free online resources such as style maunals, grammar guides, research and citaition guides, and more available online for students.
Learn more, access resources, and schedule a writing consultation here.