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Midterms and Test Preparedness

A few years ago, we had a terrific intern in the Parent Programs office, a young woman from the Class of 2012 whose name started with an E.  Intern E, as we called her, occasionally wrote guest columns from the student perspective.  Here’s what she had to say about midterms and test prep – and then we’ll add some thoughts following.

Test Preparedness and Midterms – A Student’s Perspective by Intern E (’12)

Almost everyone at Wake Forest has heard that frightening nickname, “work forest.”  I remember visiting the University during high school and asking anyone who would listen if it was true.  Once I became a student at Wake Forest, I was anxious going in to my first exam and found it terrifying attempting to conquer my first week of midterms.

Unfortunately, my fears panned out.  After taking my first exam in a subject I thought I understood, I was more than shocked to receive a low grade.  After all, I had studied all night and reviewed early on the morning of the test.  I left Tribble Hall feeling distressed and overwhelmed.

But breathe easy – my distress was short lived.  After a few takes at tweaking my study methods, I’ve learned the student-dubbed nickname, “work forest” isn’t so bad.   After bombing that first exam I scheduled a time to meet with my professor, and together we went over my notes and talked about study habits.  My professor showed me that while I memorized the right facts, I did not thoroughly understand concepts.  The latter simply was not possible after one night of cramming.

I have learned that the professors at Wake Forest are more than willing to help their students, and I try to ask for advice when I feel overwhelmed. Now I study in advance, stay organized using a planner, and work to avoid those ever famous all-nighters.  My grades have skyrocketed since that first exam, and I have found myself confident, rather than anxious, on test day.

So, when your child inevitably finds him/herself stressing out about a class, I urge you to remind him/her that no one performs at their best after cramming.  No one can function after two hours of sleep.  You shouldn’t wait until after a test to approach a professor if you’re having problems understanding course material.  Instead, encourage your child to take advantage of the accessible Wake Forest professors from the beginning, to stay organized by using a planner, to join a study group, visit the Learning Assistance Center for individual or group tutoring, go to the Math Center or Writing Center, and to be willing to revamp their study habits from their high school ways.

College is harder than high school and many students have a hard time realizing that changes need to be made in their study habits.  As parents, remember to be supportive of your student.  Remember that the thirty second frantic call home is when your child feels the most overwhelmed.  There is still plenty of time, like the incident of my first disastrous test, to improve.  Your child should use the first few months of school to discover what it takes to succeed.  With support from home and Wake Forest’s many resources, your student will learn what works best.

Written by Intern E. (’12)

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Some thoughts about midterm grades from the Parent Programs office

College level work is different than high school level work, no question.  And the first set of midterms is scary for many students, just because they don’t know what to expect.  Once they get through one set of midterms and have a sense of what they are like, then it typically gets easier.

So, how to prepare for them?  Every student is going to have to navigate the best way to prep.  For some it will be rereading textbook chapters, going over highlighted passages, or even recopying notes from class a second time to cement the ideas into their heads.  For others it will be study groups or one-on-one prep with another classmate.  Hopefully students will be seeking assistance from professors if they feel they need it.  Office hours are there to be utilized when needed, and faculty members are happy to help students, particularly if they have been present in class and obviously engaged in the materials.

We also have ample resources on campus in more formalized settings.  Students have the the Math CenterWriting Center, and/or Learning Assistance Center there to help.  There is also a Chem Clinic for those in chemistry.

Some of the anxiety of midterms can be reduced if the student has spent the first part of the semester exercising good time management skills and has made academics a priority.  When I talk to students who are not pleased with their grade in a given class, I typically ask them to reflect on the following questions:

– Have you kept up with readings, assignments, and homework in a timely manner – or have you been procrastinating?

– Have you attended all classes – or have you been skipping some?

– Have you gone to see the faculty member if you had questions or if things did not make sense – or have you not talked to the professor?

– Have you sought out extra help via tutoring in the Learning Assistance Center, Math Center, Writing Center, Chem Clinic – or have you not availed yourself of those resources?

– Have you spent enough time on academics – or has your social life taken priority?

Normally if you are doing the right things, the grades will follow.  That doesn’t mean students will get As in every class.  There are going to be some subjects where students might struggle (sometimes for the first time ever).  But if you have done the best you could and given yourself every opportunity to succeed, you should be satisfied with your performance.  If you hadn’t done all that, however, then it’s time to make some adjustments before the end of the semester.

Finally, a word or two on GPAs.  

A question we frequently get in the Parent Programs office is “what is the average GPA – I want to make sure my son/daughter is at or above average.”  While this is a well-intended question, it is one that causes UNBELIEVABLE stress to your students.  At the college level, many students are no longer able to be extraordinary at all subjects (as they may have been in high school) and now they are taking classes in areas where the pace is a lot faster, or the material is a lot more complicated.  They may be seeing Bs or Cs or Ds for the first time in their lives.  And they panic.

A lot of students panic because of real or imagined pressure from their parents about grades.  Understandable – college is a big investment and you want them to do well.  But the only way a student can be measured is based on his or her potential in that particular class.  Real life example: I was a terrible, terrible biology student.  I struggled mightily.  And if my parents had held me to a class average, I would have been far below it.  However, I was working to my maximum capacity to understand the material, and literally it was the best I could do.

So please, please resist the urge to set an arbitrary GPA threshold your student must reach.  Particularly the first year of college (and the fall semester particularly), students are feeling their way through this new environment and new expectations.  For most of my academic advisees, their first semester grades are their worst, just due to the adjustment.  The grades tend to rise once they get their sea legs and understand what college requires.

Your students will become acutely aware of their GPA very soon, and most of the students here put a ton of pressure on themselves.  Rather than talk about GPA, coach and counsel them on work habits.  The grades will follow.

Some families have asked questions about how they receive notification of their student’s grades.  The answer to that  is from our Questions and Answers page, Academics section.  (If you didn’t know the Q&A page exists, bookmark it and use it for the future!) 

What is FERPA and how does it affect parent access to grades?
The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 (FERPA) as amended is a federal law which is designed to protect the privacy of and limit access to the educational records of students.

Beginning in the Fall 2014, Wake Forest students can grant others access to view certain pieces of information that is normally available in their WIN account. This is termed granting “proxy access,” and the other person is referred to as the “proxy.”  The most common scenario is for a student to grant a parent or spouse access to his/her information; however, the student can choose anyone who has an e-mail address. By granting proxy access the student is giving Wake Forest permission to share the selected information with that individual. This permission is necessary to comply with the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA).

The proxy/student relationship is controlled by the student. The student can create proxy user accounts and assign access to specific pages within WIN. Proxy users can potentially view items such as a student’s class schedule, mid-term and final grades, academic transcript, and degree audit/progress. The student can reset a PIN for his/her proxy and can also choose to stop proxy access to his/her information. Requests to access student academic information and to become a proxy should be made directly to the student.  Midterm grades will not be mailed.