7 Ways to Hack Your Midterms


Midterm season is upon us!

It’s that dreaded time of year again to decipher your chicken-scratch notes and wish that you took handwriting in middle school. How can you possibly recall everything your professor said during those long lecture hours? Not to worry! We’ve got seven easy study hacks that’ll help you remember your lecture material without having to pull back-to-back all-nighters before your midterms.

1. Colour Code Concepts

It’s much easier for your mind to remember and categorize concepts when you associate them with colour. Take out those highlighters and colour code different sections of your notes based on important themes that will most likely be on the test. Use another colour for concepts you need to revisit for clarification, further understanding, and elaboration. This will help your mind to filter through the information you’ve studied much faster by color in the exam room.

2. Use Mnemonics

If you’re expected to jot down three or more examples in a midterm, create an acronym or mnemonic for these words to significantly improve your ability to retrieve them. For example, I haven’t taken a math class in almost seven years but I still remember the order of operations when calculating a function thanks to the mnemonic “BEDMAS” (Brackets, Exponents, Division & Multiplication, Addition & Subtraction). If you’re having trouble thinking of a way to string together some examples, Google it and you’ll find lists of mnemonics for popular subjects!

3. Replace Lyrics with Details

Why is it that we can still remember every lyric to Bye Bye Bye by NSYNC yet struggle to explain half the theories we learned in last week’s lecture? Catchy beats make it much easier to memorize information so try replacing the lyrics of the songs in your Spotify playlist with key details from class. You’ll be using your love for music to help you memorize! Come to think of it, I STILL REMEMBER the entire quadratic formula by singing it to the tune of Pop Goes the Weasel.

4. Space Out Your Studying

Cramming everything a day before your exam can make it very difficult to remember everything during your test. Instead, break down your studying and space it out over a few days to give your brain more time to solidify your grasp of lecture material. Decades of research has demonstrated that spacing out study sessions improves your long-term memory retention by allowing you to practice retrieving and revisiting new information. This is all to say that you should definitely take a few days to study a complete subject for best results.

5. Take Naps

Studies have proved that taking quick naps between studying can actually help the brain process and retain information. How? Research reveals that when information is first recorded in our hippocampus (our brain’s chest of memories), it doesn’t completely stick, especially if the mind is continuously trying to memorize many things. Napping in between memorization seems to make prior information stick farther in the neocortex, the brain’s permanent storage area, all locked up and ready for when you’ll need it during the midterm.

6. Read and Repeat

When we read our notes out loud, we form auditory links in our memory which allows us to recall information better. This is called the Production Effect, where audible production increases your ability to remember what’s being said. Of course, reading your entire textbook won’t do any good; if there are no connections or categorizations to your oral reading, it doesn’t materialize well in your mind.

Bonus Tip: Create flashcards with questions and their corresponding answers, categorize the information you want to retain and read them out loud.

7. Invent Visual Stories

For those who learn better visually or have good photographic memory, this hack is your superpower. Visual links form in our memory pathways much easier than aggregated information, so linking specific concepts with visual examples will help you remember and interpret the information in specific detail much better on exam day. Use this method especially for long-answer questions that require you to really use your pen, paper, and mind, with zero tolerance for fluff.

See, studying for midterms doesn’t have to be intimidating. Take advantage of these study techniques and breeze through the test questions with confidence. Give yourself ample time and space to practice and absorb these techniques, customize them for your courses and study for your exam. Good luck!

About the author

Elizabeth Palmieri is a full-stack digital content creator and video producer, formerly Maclean's, MoneySense, and Canadian Business. When she's not on the soccer field, she's probably curled up in bed with a good Bill Bryson book. See what she's up to on Twitter or connect with her on LinkedIn.