For the first year engineering students at the University of Waterloo, midterm week (or more commonly known as ‘hell week’) is right around the corner. Other university programs spreads out its midterms over the course of the term, but at Waterloo Engineering, all your midterms are scheduled in one week; one after another, and is one of the most intense week for all engineering students at Waterloo. It would be pretty unlucky if you had a midterm at night and then the next one in the morning. Anyways, that’s not what I’m here to talk about: I’m here to talk about my experiences with midterms, specifically in my 1B term. Nikhil’s post was about his learning experiences after you fail your term and tips to prevent that, and my post is what you should do before you fail the term.

My Story

Pre-Midterm

It was May 2014, and I finally moved back to Waterloo. I passed my 1A term, completed my first co-operative education work term, and I’m back to start my 1B term. Prior to starting in 1A, I knew that first year will be hard, and so all I wanted is to pass the term: I didn’t really care too much about getting high marks; I just wanted to pass. That’s still my goal, however now that I’ve been through my first academic term and have seen what it was like, I want to raise my average and do better than my 1A term. To do that, you need to do well on at least the midterm and final, since combined together they are worth at least 70% of your overall mark (Calculus II was 90%, midterm and final combined). So that’s what I tried to aim for: do well on both of those and I should be in good shape. At least I tried to.

Fast forward to the week before hell week: I already knew which courses needed the most attention: discrete math and physics (in ECE, I believe these two courses are the most challenging for the term). So I made sure that I had a little bit more time to study for those two courses while still keeping enough time for the rest of my courses. I also decided to boycott one of my calculus assignment because let’s face it: a 1% assignment is nowhere as important as a 20% or 30% midterm, and I needed all the time I can get to prepare for them.

Post-Midterm

I got my midterm marks back on LEARN (our school web portal for students). Here were my marks:

– Physics II 44%*

– Engineering Design: 48.5%**

– Calculus II: 51.6%

– Discrete Math: 61%

– Digital Circuits: 83%

* The prof gave everybody a 3% boost…so in reality I got 41%

** This mark will change later on, so keep reading 🙂

So let’s calculate the average of these midterms. If my math isn’t wrong, I should have a 57.6 average. Now, according to Waterloo Engineering’s term promotion rules, if I had that as my final average for the term, that means that I would get an academic standing of “Failed – required to repeat” on my student record. I was pretty shocked when I saw these marks. I kept thinking about what happened during the midterms. Sure, they were rather challenging, but there was no way that I could have gotten those grades! I even came to the conclusion that there’s got to be some sort of a mistake…I put in my best and studied a lot! I was pretty much in denial. It wasn’t until I saw my papers that those were my actual marks. I saw all those X’s and marks awarded for each question and in my mind, I was saying to myself “How did I mess up?” As I looked at my paper carefully, I lost a considerable amount of marks on really silly mistakes…and these mistakes build up, translating into the result that I got.

For the rest of the term, I went through a moment of depression. I thought to myself that if midterms was bad, how would finals even look like? I even thought about the possible consequences of actually failing a term: anything from falling behind your class to financial realities (and no, parents yelling at me for failing the term was the LEAST of my worries…there were more important things that I need to worry about). I have friends who had to repeat their term in my year and the amount of stress that they went through was crazy! It was also because of these consequences that I realized that I can’t fail: there was just way too much on the line. I could go on and talk about that, but that’s unnecessary. So, the bottom line is that I need to pass; there’s no other way out of this.

Mission Objective: Save the Term

I knew that I need to do well on the final in order to at least pass the term. Every time I worked on an assignment or a lab, I always reminded myself about this. As finals rolled around I was going through a lot of stress. Some people decided to go on countless all-nighters and don’t sleep before their exam just to cram everything. Most ended up failing the term. I knew that cramming like this won’t get you anywhere, so rather than using that method which seemed like it was doomed for failure, I made sure that not only I maximize my studying time for each of my courses, but I also maximize the amount of sleep I get each night . I tend to aim for at least 6 hours of sleep on nights when I don’t have an exam the next day, and at least 8 hours on nights that I do. Then most would be allotted to studying and all the necessary trips to the plaza for food.

Aside: Engineering Design Midterm

So, what happened with this midterm? Well, my midterm was lost (yea the prof lost my midterm -.-“); it wasn’t until the end of the term that I got it back and verified my mark. I put it aside, not even looking for any mistakes (because it was the last week of classes…my physics final was in a week, so I gotta get on that!) It wasn’t until the day before my engineering design final that I realized that was short 10% on my midterm…10%!!!! What happened was that the TA marking my paper added things incorrectly, so I needed this remarked. The prof said that the midterm can be remarked only if you give it to the prof before he walks into the examination hall, or if you drop it off at the ECE office on campus before the time of your final. I couldn’t find him anywhere on campus, and trying to track him down right before the final is literally mission impossible. I tried going to the office but it was closed. At the end, I tried my luck the following morning and luckily I was able to submit it to the ECE office right before my final started. That was a close call!

End of Term and Results from Finals

My last exam for the term was on August 15th, and final grades starts showing up on quest on the 18th. What I could have done was done, and at this point there’s nothing much that I can do. I was actively refreshing the grades page on the 17th at midnight, because I was nervous and freaked out about what might show up on the 18th

Mission Accomplished!

By the 21st or 22nd, all my marks showed up on quest, and I passed the term!!! It was such a huge relief after seeing these marks, and knowing that I can finally relax and prepare for my second work term. (And no, I didn’t barely scrape the necessary average to pass, my average was a lot higher than my midterm average). I even beat my 1A average too! Best thing is that I have no failed courses, so they don’t have to haunt me in the future! 😀

Conclusion & Lessons

I know that I’m not a super genius, and I have always been working hard since high school, which eventually earned me a spot in the ECE program, earning my first awesome co-op position, and ultimately passing the first two terms in Engineering. Why am I posting this? Well, it’s for YOU to get a view from a student’s perspective who went through the same thing that most first year engineering students are about to go through, and to learn from my experience.

Some tips:

Don’t slack off! For first year students, midterms and finals are worth a lot (you probably know this by now). It’s not how it is in high school, where each assessment is worth very little until the final exam. Study hard for your courses; don’t assume that anything is easy. And most importantly, do well on your midterm and final!

Do your assignment/practice questions! I can’t stress this enough. Some of you might have gone through high school thinking that the questions thrown on tests and finals are easy. In university, that’s not the case. Remember: your profs have PhD’s; they did research in that area of study, so the problems that they come up with are a lot more challenging than the ones that you are used to see at the high school level. This is extremely important for physics, as the midterm will be overwhelming.

Look over your midterm carefully before submitting it. This is definitely one thing I need to work on. Sometimes when I finish a midterm early, I check my work over first, however I don’t look it over in detail. If I had done that, I probably wouldn’t have been so stressed throughout the term…

Don’t let your midterm results affect you. Okay, so you got your results back and you failed a couple midterms, and now you’re freaking out. I just said that you should do well for your midterm, but there’s that random incident where you studied so hard and the marks wasn’t what you expected. Don’t let them get to you: you still have the final to raise your marks. Use this as a wake-up call that you need to do better and improve, just like what I did. Some people pointed out that I get stressed out too easily, which is true. If you’re like me, you got to somehow take the stress and turn it into motivation to do well, which is exactly what I did for my 1B term.

Get sleep! As stated earlier, I know people who went on all-nighters in hopes that they can, say, cram the course material into a night or two, especially right before the midterm/final. Don’t do that! Try to get as much sleep as possible right before your assessment.

At this point, I wanna thank my study group for everything! It was you guys who kept me motivated and helped me get through all of this (specifically speaking: Nikhil, Muntashir, Marcus, Edmond, and whoever else I forgot…:P ) Love ya’ll! <3

Also, if you manage to read through all of this, you deserve a cookie! 🙂

David Vuong