Midterm week at NECO is always a challenge. In college, my professors gave several exams throughout the semester with each course culminating in a final exam taken in one difficult week. At NECO, because our coursework is so intensive, we have structured exam weeks for both midterms and finals that are alike in difficulty, although in a few courses the final exams are cumulative for the midterm material as well. I took my midterm for Neural Basis of Vision this morning, a week ahead of time, so during midterm week we will have five exams instead of six.
In my first year, I found it challenging to adjust to the structure of the courses at NECO until I discovered that the key to handling exam weeks here is to develop your own strategy and stick to it consistently. Find a place where you study most effectively; determine whether you like to study alone, with classmates, or a combination of the two; figure out whether you concentrate best in absolute silence or with mellow background noise. Make a to-do list or a studying calendar to remind yourself not to spend all your time on one subject. Set goals and make sure that you accomplish them, because your study time can be limited by classes, labs, and other obligations like practicing techniques in clinic. Reward yourself when you accomplish your study goals, and make sure you take breaks to rest both your brain and your eyes.
I developed study strategies for myself previously in high school and modified them for studying in college, but I found that I needed to rework my tactics yet again when I started at NECO. I learned that despite being an honor student throughout my academic career, unfamiliar and difficult coursework can still pose a challenge, and it’s important not to underestimate how much you need to study for each class. Perhaps most importantly, I learned that it is impossible to leave all of your studying to the weeks leading up to exams. It is important when you are learning such challenging material that you will need to be able to retain for the rest of your career that you study consistently and reinforce what you learn in lecture with time studying on your own.
I think it’s also crucial to take advantage of the different resources NECO has to offer when it comes time to prepare for exams. There are a variety of different study spaces in NECO’s gorgeous Beacon Street building, and our NECO ID cards also give us access to different campus libraries around Boston if we need a change of scenery. Professors are always willing to answer questions about course material, and between recordings of lectures, PowerPoint notes, and notes from the school notetakers, course material is presented in a variety of different formats so that you can study for one subject in several different ways. The most important resource, I’ve found, is your classmates—not only to study with, but as a support system. Since NECO is a small school, there is a sense of community that follows you from your first day as a first year student throughout your time here. Although exam weeks are when I am the most stressed, they are also when I have been able to really get to know my classmates by studying together, encouraging each other and supporting each other. It’s important to remind each other that all of your hard work studying for exams is an investment in your future, and that your motivation stems from a passion for becoming an optometrist.
Good luck to everyone on midterms and have a wonderful spring break!