The Final Countdown: Preparing Students for Semester Exams

By Susan Johnson '88

One goal of Middle School is for students to develop and hone study skills. Semester exams provide the perfect opportunity to learn and practice such skills. These exams, which occur in grades 6-8 at the end of each semester, are cumulative and require students to synthesize and recall information from the entire semester. To many students, preparing for exams is a daunting task, and without intentional study skills, students can easily become overwhelmed. In Middle School at Harbor Day, teachers are very intentional in helping students plan, organize, and study for these exams. 

Students have their first round of semester exams in sixth grade, where they plan for two exams: math and English. In seventh grade, they have four exams: math, English, world language, and science. In eighth grade, they have five: math, English, world language, science, and history. This is a gradual increase in workload so that by the time students graduate from eighth grade, they are prepared for high school and the more intense exam schedule that comes with it.

In order to help students prepare, teachers provide study guides that outline the material and concepts that will be covered on the exams. Students will hear from each teacher this week how to break down all the material into “chunks”. Students will record each subject's chunks onto one master study schedule so that they will have their own personal calendar as to what to study each day for each of their exams.

This year, our Learning Specialists, Ms. Heather Schmid and Mrs. Amy Grace, have been teaching study skills techniques and other important executive functioning skills in Seminar class once a month in sixth and seventh grades. According to the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University, executive functioning skills are defined as those skills that enable students to plan, focus attention, and handle multiple tasks successfully. Students need these skills to help avoid becoming distracted, to make and accomplish goals, and to regulate their impulses (Center on the Developing Child, Harvard University). This week, Seminar class will focus on teaching study techniques to prepare for final exams. The teachers will offer tips on how to approach certain types of questions and establish routines to help students mentally prepare before exams. With all of this concerted effort, the goal is for students to feel organized and prepared as they go into their semester exams, thus helping them minimize anxiety and gain confidence. Hopefully, students will utilize these skills in high school and beyond to help them prepare for any high-stakes situation. 

About the Author:
Mrs. Johnson ‘88 has a long history with Harbor Day School. A Harbor Day alumna, Mrs. Johnson came back to teach world history and geography for five years starting in 1998. She returned to Harbor Day in 2011 and served as the Middle School Language Arts Department Chair and taught middle school English and literature for four years. Currently, Mrs. Johnson is the Director of Middle School overseeing the fifth through eighth grade program. Mrs. Johnson holds a bachelor’s degree from Vanderbilt University, a master’s degree in education from the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and a juris doctor from Chapman University School of Law.

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Harbor Day School is a co-educational private independent K-8 school established in 1952.