Dear Frances: How do I study for midterms?

Dear Frances,

This is my first year of college and things are going overall super well! Except... I have four midterms coming up next week, and I'm not sure how to prepare. Actually, I'm freaking out! Help!


Frightened first-year

Dear Frightened,

First of all, I truly cannot believe someone has asked me a question about something I have actual knowledge about. Take that, gynecologist who raised his eyebrows and asked me what I'm going to do with a psychology degree in the middle of my Pap smear!

Anyway, you should probably study, and I'm going to tell you some empirically supported ways of doing so. The magic words? Spaced, interleaved retrieval practice. Not very sexy, I know. Literally all this means is that you need to practice recalling the information you'll need to know from memory, you need to do it regularly over as long a period as possible (start now!) and you should switch up which subjects you're studying relatively often. Another science-approved way to study is explaining the concepts to a generous friend, or your mom. I'm sure she'd love to hear from you!

My other advice is not to waste your time with strategies that don't work. "Massed practice," also known as cramming, isn't as effective, and neither is just re-reading texts, or underlining and highlighting information. Sorry if you're one of the people who brings 16 colored pens to class! Feel free to continue to do that if it brings you joy, but know that it hasn't been shown to boost your retention.

Also: don't make yourself insane! It's fine to mess up and get a bad grade. If you do really terribly in a class or two you can even withdraw. Though we don't talk about it, many Duke students have done so at least once by the time they graduate. And, anyway, if there's one thing I've learned at Duke, it's that not everyone can be the best! Literally who cares! Do whatever you want! Good luck!

Frances Beroset is a Trinity senior. Her advice column runs whenever someone sends a question worth answering. Email her your problems at


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