Understanding the Midterm system
This week, I dedicated the majority of my time to studying for midterms. I care a lot about my grades, so I take studying very seriously. Before I jump into detailing the process I went through while trying to study, I must address how different the midterm system is in Italy. I am unsure if this is the case for everyone in Italy but this is how it works at my school. The system in place at Bocconi is based on the willingness of each student to take the exams they require. It is not mandatory to take the midterm, but in my opinion it relieves some of the stress from the final. Most classes give you the option to take the midterm as the first half of your examination, and the second part during the final. If you do not do well on the midterm, then you have the option of taking the full final in hopes of bettering your grade. However, if you do not take the midterm, then you are required to take the full final.
It is not a very complicated system to understand, but it is a little different from my home university. However, this is not the strangest part to me. The strangest part about their examination system is the actually distribution of exams. Firstly, since it is not required to take a midterm, one has to physically sign up for the exams. It is not like in the United States where you show up to class and you are handed your exam. Students have to sign up for a day and time and their classroom number is given to them a day before the exam. It is not in the same place or time you have your usual class.
So why do we get a break?
Another interesting note about midterms is that we have a break. We are given a week and a half off of school. Before arriving to Milan I didn’t understand why we had that break in the middle of October. To my knowledge, there weren’t any significant holidays during these days. It wasn’t until I started school that they explained that was due to midterms. Again, I am used to taking midterms but still having to continue going to classes. This was also an interesting change, which I somewhat appreciated. The school isn’t giving you a random time period of vacation, the intention is for students to have ample amount to study. It also has to do with scheduling and the arrangement of classrooms.
This isn’t a completely foreign concept to me since it is the same system we use for finals. It was a little odd to see this same structure being applied to midterms. That isn’t to say that midterms in America aren’t taken seriously, they just aren’t treated to same severity as finals are. However, I was completely fine with this.
Studying in a foreign language
As I have mentioned before, three out of four of my classes are taught in Italian. Two of these classes require a midterm. I usually do not have a problem studying for exams, but those exams are always in English, so I was very nervous. My first midterm was on Thursday for marketing in the creative sector. I was lucky for this test because my professor allowed me to take my exam in English. However, my notes and my book are still in Italian, so I still had to interpret the information. Therefore, I appreciated the uninterrupted time to study.
However, I am used to studying a certain way. I found myself with a lot of time to review and one might think that is a blessing. To me it was more stressful. It gave me more time to overthink everything I was reading. It gave me more time to feel like I was procrastinating and not utilizing my time wisely, and that made me even more anxious. When people say they tend to thrive under pressure, it usually means that pressure doesn’t stop them from accomplishing something. For me, it is literally the spark that lights my fire. I seem to get a lot more done (and in better quality) when I am under pressure to finish. I literally thrive and excel under pressure. Because having that pressure doesn’t allow me time to overthink every decision I make, I just have to make a decision.
Finding a way to pressure myself
The first few days of studying I found it very difficult to concentrate on solely studying. But I knew I had to focus and really read all the chapters and slides for my class. I needed to feel some sort of pressure so that I wouldn’t overthink my exam. It was difficult, and I did waste a lot of time scrolling through social media while I attempted to study, but in the end I found motivation. It seemed like I had so much time, but as I sat down and revisited the chapters, I realized they were really long. I skimmed my book and looked at the PowerPoint presentations and broke down how much time it might take me to get through every chapter. Only a crazy person would be happy about this, but I found I would barely be able to get through everything in time for the exam.
That was it. That was the exact pressure I needed to help me focus. So, I turned filled up my Moka and brewed a fresh cup of Italian coffee. I opened my books and turned on my Spotify study playlist and got right to work. The concepts of marking we learned were not completely foreign to me, but it was interesting to see them in a different language and in the context of the creative sector. I do not know why I work better when I feel the pressure of time ticking fast. It’s almost like an adrenaline rush. Will I finish in time? Will I understand everything on the first read? It almost feels like I am challenging myself to learn the material in the shortest amount of time possible. I’m sure this is due to the school structure I am used to from America.
Finishing my studying
Once I found the much needed motivation to study, everything seemed easier. The faint sound of Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd playing through my earphones while I read several passages in Italian really helped me retain a lot of information. It seems like an odd choice to listen to rock music, which tends to be loud, when studying. However, for some odd reason these guitar heavy artist help me cancel out any other noise. The thing I also like is that Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd have some rock heavy songs but also some soft songs. Sometimes I need loud music to help me stay awake, and other times I need a slower song to help my stress levels lower. Somehow, the right song always come on when I need it to.
The rest of my time was spent reading and writing down important notes. I didn’t feel panicked until the morning of my exam. I got up early to get ready and have a proper breakfast. My exam was at 9 a.m. exactly. I had no idea what to expect. I knew I needed a pen and an ID, but apart from that I wasn’t sure to expect. When I arrived to school I followed everyone’s lead and just waited outside of the classroom. I wasn’t sure if we just weren’t allowed to go in or there was a certain way of checking-in, but it seemed like a smart idea to just see what others did. As soon as 9 am hit, the proctor came out with an iPad. He started calling out names and people showed him their IDs as they walked in. Thankfully, my last name is with an R so I was one of the last ones to go in.
Once inside, I silenced my phone and took everything I needed. The proctor explained to us we had 90 minutes to complete the exam and we could opt-out before 10 minutes after the exam started. I had only had one professor that allowed you to withdraw from an exam after you saw it, it was an economics professor and the rule was you could withdraw before the 1st person finished their exam. So this was not odd to me. The proctor distributed the exams and we had to fill out our information and then sign it. Once we were allowed to open the exam I felt a huge weight being lifted. I knew the answer to the first question. I took the exam in less than an hour so I had time to review my answers. As I turned in the exam I felt like could breath, I had done it. I took my first test abroad. I don’t think I got 100%, but I tried my absolute best and felt like I really thought out everything I was answering.
The experience isn’t over I still have one more midterm to conquer on Tuesday, but at least I know what to expect now. So the coffee and tunes are still a crucial part of my life at the moment. Just until Tuesday. However, I am sure I will need them again in December for finals, but that is still a few months away.