Why Midterm Is Decision Time for Your Student

For many students the midpoint of the semester feels like a shock. How can the semester be half over already? How can I still have so much work to do? Is that really what my grade is at this point of the semester?  It feels as though we just got started and it’s time for midterm exams!

This midterm surprise can be a good thing. For many students it’s a wake-up call or a reality check. This is where you are. This is what’s left. This is what you need to do.

For other students, midterm can be an affirmation that they’re on the right track. They need to continue to do what they’ve been doing.

Still others may realize that a little tweaking will make a difference by the end of the semester. They’re headed in the right direction but need a little fine tuning.

Information gathering

The first thing your student needs to do at midterm is gather as much information as possible. Midterm exams can be a valuable source of that information. An exam can give your student feedback about how well they understand the material.

Your student will also probably have some grades from the early part of the semester. Have there been quizzes or assignments? Has everything been turned in? Many students can find this information online on a Learning Management System (LMS) such as Blackboard or Canvas. Many professors post grades there.

Your student might also think about attendance. Showing up is important. Even if they don’t take attendance, professors usually notice who’s missing a lot of classes. Being in class means learning from lectures and activities as well as being able to ask questions (or at least learn when others ask questions.)

Make decisions

Once your student has a clear picture of each class, midterm becomes a time to make decisions for the second half of the semester. In many classes, there may be more work (and opportunities to make a change in grades) in the second half of the semester.

What are some of these important decisions?

  • If your student is doing poorly in a course, the first question may be, “How bad is it?” To answer this, your student will probably need to talk to the professor. Numbers may not tell the whole story. If the answer is that it is unlikely that your student will be able to pull their grade up significantly, your student will need to decide whether to withdraw from the course. Although this is not something your student may want to do, withdrawing from a true “lost cause” course can protect your student’s GPA and also allow them to put all of their effort into their remaining courses to do well. Sometimes the “W” can stand for the Wisdom to know that this is the right decision.
  • If your student finds they are not doing well but might still be able to pass the class, they can determine whether their school has a Pass/Fail policy and whether the deadline for declaring this has passed. If this remains an option, your student can opt to take the class as Pass/Fail only. This means that if your student passes (even with a low grade) their transcript will indicate only a “P” rather than a letter grade and it will not be included in their GPA. Not all schools will have a P/F option, and some will have earlier deadlines. There may also be restrictions on the classes in which a student may use the option. (Often, students cannot opt for P/F in major classes.)
  • If your student is struggling a bit in a class, considering a tutor makes sense. Most schools offer tutoring for students at no extra cost. This may be professional or peer tutoring. Working with other students through peer tutoring can be beneficial because these students may have taken the course and have a sense of what your student needs to know. Help your student understand that even strong students take advantage of tutoring services to raise their grade.
  • If your student has been studying alone, they might consider forming a study group with others in the class. This group might plan to meet weekly (or more often) to compare class notes, go over reading material, and study together for quizzes or tests. Some studies have shown that students who study with others do better..
  • Another decision for your student will be whether or not their method of studying is working. Do they use a planner for time management? Do they spend enough time? Are they studying in a distraction-free environment? Are they reading carefully, creating study guides, completing practice problems, etc.? A new approach can make a difference.
  • Finally, your student will need to think ahead about next semester. The middle of the semester is the time when many students begin to plan their classes for the following semester. If your student decides to withdraw from a required class this semester, will they take it again next semester or wait? Will your student take a summer class? Are they considering a change of major to something more in line with their interests and strengths? Midterm is a good time to take the longer view.

Midsemester is an essential time for your student to make decisions about how to move forward. Once they have a clear picture of their current situation they can use that information to ask important questions and then make decisions. These choices may involve a significant change in direction or a few small tweaks to improve on something that is already going well, but these decisions will help your student take control of their college career.

Related articles:

Helping Your Student Make Sense of Midterm Grades

Helping Your Student Avoid “How Do I Tell My Parents?” Fears

When Your Student’s Class Isn’t Going Well

Is Your Student Getting in Their Own Way?

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