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Helping Students Get Organized For Midterms Study

studying photoMany middle and high school students take mid-year exams in January.

The keys to effective exam review are to start early and have a plan.

I ask students to come up with a list of what they’ll need to do in order to be well-prepared for their exams, and most kids are actually pretty good at this part.

Here’s what one high school student wrote:

  • Chemistry: I’m going to make flash cards based on the test study guides and my notes/worksheets.
  • History: I will review my handouts and practice writing some essays.
  • English: I’ll have to refresh my knowledge on the books we read and their themes.
  • Math: I’m going to look over any old tests and quizzes as well as do the activities my teacher has on his website.
  • Spanish: I’ll look at old quizzes and review the vocabulary and conjugations.

I hope you will agree that this student clearly knows what he’s got to do, and is off to a great start.

But now here comes the hard part: Notice how vague and unspecified his list is? It’s full of phrases like “review,” and “look over,” (what, exactly, does he have in mind? What, for example, does he mean by “look over”?) and it doesn’t specify WHEN he will do these things, HOW MANY flashcards he will create per day, and so on.

This list now needs to be converted into a daily action plan, including specific, quantified activities that will be completed each day.

Here’s how we began shaping this student’s to-do list into a study plan:

  • Monday: Create 20 chemistry flashcards, locate history handouts and spend 15 minutes reading them and highlighting important information, locate English notes and spend 10 minutes highlighting important information, rework one math test and highlight questions to ask the teacher…
  • Tuesday: Create 20 more chemistry flashcards, write one history essay, reread English handouts and highlight important info, redo another math test…

Notice that we made specific assignments for each day, quantified by either number (20 flashcards, one math test), or time (15 minutes).

The plan should be put in writing either on a calendar or a checklist so that finished tasks can be checked off as they are completed. I believe it’s best to do this on paper (not online), and then posted in a publicly visible place such as the family bulletin board or refrigerator. Action plans stored online or squirreled away in a notebook tend to get “forgotten.”

I also find that many students need an adult to sit down and help them to create a study plan. Why can’t kids do this on their own?

  • Inexperience. Students simply don’t know what a study plan ought to look like or how to set one up.
  • Executive function limitations. Adolescents’ brains aren’t fully developed yet, so planning and organizing may be harder for them than for adults.
  • Anxiety. Stress and fear cause adrenaline to flood the brain and shut down higher-level thinking capabilities. When a kid is too anxious, long-term perspective and the ability to plan go out the window.

It’s definitely ideal for students to become independent and self-responsible, but some guidance and support from adults can help kids move down the path towards autonomy.

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Photo by Leo Hidalgo (@yompyz)

Helping Students Get Organized For Midterms Study

Leigh Pretnar Cousins, MS

Leigh Pretnar Cousins, MS is an educator, counselor, writer and speaker. She's been a tutor, test prep coach and home school teacher for over thirty years. Click HERE to visit Leigh's website and to subscribe to her newsletter, "Learning Something New."

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APA Reference
Cousins, L. (2016). Helping Students Get Organized For Midterms Study. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 14, 2020, from


Last updated: 5 Jan 2016
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