The month of October marks a half point for the fall semester and the beginning of one of the most dreaded times for any college student: midterm season. For an engineering students in particular it can be stressful time since that usually involves reviewing massive amounts of material while the regular beats of student life, like assignments, clubs, and classes, all continue as normal.
For me midterm season was just a little rough with my exams being rather close together. Since I’m taking a variety of unique classes (computer science, electrical, math, film) I thought that it would beneficial to look at how the preparation for all these exams differed.
In the case of math, my philosophy is that practice makes perfect.I found that it is rarely ever good enough to know what’s happening in math in the purely abstracted level. While knowing the theory behind the numbers is essential to grasping the topics that build upon it, they will only get you so far when on an exam. So, you must find time to really get your hands dirty and practice a variety of different problems in order to really cement both theory and practicality. Thus, for multivariable calculus I ended up spending a lot time actually taking old exams, practicing timing and execution at the same time.
In the case of computer science, it wasn’t as obvious as to what the best way to study was. The bulk of our work for CS201, Principles in Software Development, is all programming assignments and while our exam was written in nature. So studying involved a lot of looking back at old exams and understanding what questions look like. When reviewing I began to notice the trend that exams not only required me to read and write a lot of code on paper, but to also understand why technology worked the way it did (Why is this language built this way? Why do developers do x instead of y?). After identifying exactly how the test was formatted, a heavy review of lecture slides and a healthy dosage of practice from past exams had me feeling prepared enough to go into that midterm.
The last two classes, Introduction to Cinema and Distributed Systems for the Internet of Things (EE 250), were a little harder to prepare for because they had no previous exams available to use for reference. For both classes we were given a general breakdown of what exams would look like and what their general focus would be (actor performance and shot composition for Cinema, data transportation and access for EE) but other than that, we were left on our own.
Since I knew that my cinema exam was going to be solely short answer responses, I just knew that I really needed to have my vocabulary down pat. My responses would mean nothing no matter how well written they were if I did not use the right vocabulary or if I didn’t understand the question at all because of the way it used film-specific jargon. So I brushed up on all the vocabulary introduced in lecture and discussion and reviewed my lecture notes, with that preparation making me feel confident enough to take that midterm head on.
My last midterm was for EE250, which was by far the most difficult test I’ve ever had to prepare for because of the sheer amount of content that was covered. While it was cool to see how much we’ve actually learned over the course of the semester (which is why it still remains one of my favorite classes) it made it a bit of nightmare to know where to start. I decided to start by diving head first into the place that held the most amount of content, the lecture slides. After covering all the units, my review notes were left at a staggering 20 pages and I was left with a more fundamental understanding of the course as a whole, with the review allowing me to piece together big ideas I hadn’t originally before. That along with some practice homework left me at a comfortable enough place to feel pretty alright about the exam I took just yesterday. While I know now that I made some silly mistakes that probably cost me points, the review was generally a great help to my understanding of the class in general.
And that just about wraps up what I’ve actually spent doing for the past two weeks. While midterm season isn’t a particularly fun time for any student, I do think it is a great way to really stand back and look at just how much you’ve already learned in the semester. I hope this gave some perspective as to how an engineering student approaches midterms. This is Luz, signing off to let her midterm tattered brain a good rest!