Do Colleges Have Midterms?

Your first semester at college can be a time full of uncertainty. You’re in a new place, and you’re unsure of what the rules are yet. The semester system can be especially confusing since, unlike high school, your courses end within one semester. Something that confuses a lot of college freshmen is whether colleges have midterms and if so, how they should navigate these. 

While a lot of courses of colleges may have midterms , there are many that do not. It’s entirely up to the professor of a particular course to decide if they want to test students through a midterm. In fact, some courses don’t even have any ‘proper’ exams and instead simply assign take-home essays – it depends on the subject and the instructor. 

Additionally, even though these exams are called ‘midterms’, most of the time there will be no fixed timeslot in which they’ll happen. Unlike finals, most colleges do not set aside a special ‘midterm week’ and different instructors can decide when exactly they want to hold their midterms. 

Do Colleges Have Midterms?

So, you might have an instructor who assigns a midterm in the 7th week of the semester while another may assign it in the 11th week of the semester. It’s completely up to the professor in question. 

If you do end up with a course that has a midterm, don’t take it lightly – midterms can make up to 40% of your total grade. The middle of the semester can be a really stressful time, you’ll likely have several spaced out midterms, and how well you do in them will significantly affect your grade – the best way to tackle this is by studying ahead and being aware of all your exam schedules. 

How Do Midterms of Colleges Work? 

One of the biggest differences between college and high school is how much independence a teacher has over their subject. In college, the professor gets to decide almost every single aspect of the course and they have complete control over the content and examinations. So, whether you have a midterm or not, will be at your professor’s discretion. 

Even if your professor does decide to hold a midterm, the shape of this exam will vary from course to course. In some subjects like English Literature or History, the instructor may assign an essay-type midterm that you have to take home and complete before a set deadline. In more science-oriented courses like Computer Science or Biology, professors may prefer holding more traditional exams – that is, they give you a question paper and you have to complete it on the spot within a set timeframe. 

A course can also have more than one midterm. Even though midterms are technically supposed to be middle of term exams, some instructors can have up to three midterms and then one final exam. This could mean that you might be taking a ‘midterm’ exam within your first month into the semester. 

Strategies to Help You Do Well in Your Midterms 

  • Plan Ahead 

Midterms don’t have a fixed timeslot. That’s why you need to check your course information or discuss with your professors to find out when they’ll be happening. That way, you can make sure to study beforehand and be up to date with all your readings. You’ll also be able to study in a more organised, consistent manner instead of having to pull all-nighters the day before the exam.  Also, if you know when the midterms for all your courses are, you’ll know beforehand if any of them are close together and you’ll be able to study accordingly. 

  • Reach Out to Professors and Teaching Assistants 

The best way to know what a professor expects of you in a particular course is to simply ask them. If you’re aware of what your instructor is looking for, you’ll be able to study a lot more efficiently and focus on all the right things while preparing. In college, no one will hold your hand to guide you and you’ll have to take initiative yourself. Reach out to TA’s and go to professors’ office hours to know what areas they’ll be testing you and what types of questions the midterm will contain. This way, you’ll have prepared in all the right ways without wasting time on extra information. 

  • Be Flexible 

In most cases, your midterms will generally be around the same time – around the 7th– 9th week in a 15 week semester. If you have multiple courses that each have a midterm component, you’ll need to be able to study for all of them at the same time. You should make lists of the syllabi of your courses, figure out how much work you’ll need to do for each course, and prioritise accordingly. You need to be able to multitask efficiently so you can give each subject the time that it needs. In order to do this, try being flexible with your study routine so you can switch between courses whenever you need to. 

  • Figure Out Your College’s Secondary Resources

Most colleges have a lot of secondary resources available to help make studying easier for you. When it comes to managing multiple midterms, these resources can be lifesavers in saving time and being more efficient. Ask your TA if your college provides access to any online databases that can help you understand the course content better. If you need a quiet place to study, find out the timings of the college library. Colleges want you to succeed and they usually have a lot of really great tools and facilities to help you do that. 


If you’re in a course that has a midterm, it’s best to take that exam seriously as midterms usually make up a large chunk of your final grade. Plan ahead, reach out to instructors, and try to study as efficiently as you can. 

If you don’t end up doing well in your midterm or if the stress of having multiple exams affects your mental health: don’t worry. While midterms are very important, they’re only one component in the instruments that make up a course. Confide in your professors about how you’re doing – most instructors really value your wellbeing and will likely help you figure out a strategy to improve your grade. 

Frequently Asked Questions 

Can you pass a course if you failed the midterm? 

Midterms can be anywhere from 20% to 40% of your grade, so it really depends on how much your midterm was worth. If you really ace the final and do well in your other instruments, hopefully, you should still be able to pass the course. 

Do colleges have midterms and finals? 

It depends on the course. While some courses have neither midterms nor finals, other courses might have both or just one. The decision to have examinations and the frequency of those examinations rests with each specific professor. 

If I miss my midterm, will I get a makeup exam? 

Whether you get a makeup exam or not depends on your professor. You’ll have to go to your instructor and tell them why you missed the midterm and if you had a really valid reason, they might let you retake it.