Just one month into the new semester, we’re naturally inclined to consider not how far we’ve come, but how far we still have to go. Nevertheless, some professors are already starting to drop the dreaded warning: “Pay attention — this could be on the midterm.”

It’s scary but true. Midterms will be here before we know it, and it’s our responsibility to be ready for them. But how much stress is too much?

While midterms can often account for a sizable portion of a course’s final grade, I feel that students often approach them with a sense of severity that I consider unnecessary and unproductive.

To be sure, midterms are deserving of attention — students should still be sure to study for them, respecting them as the tests they are. But, I see a lot of students who are compelled to go through the same excruciating cramming process that — when it must be used — should generally be reserved for finals. The problem is that many students place too much value on midterm grades, and the implications of those results.

A midterm, in essence, should act as a benchmark to determine how well you are understanding the course materials at the time you take it. But, some students take to the dangerous practice of assuming that midterm results are indicative of their potential in the class.

If you under-perform on a midterm, that shouldn’t give you any reason to believe that you just don’t understand the subject. Naturally, it will take effort to improve your comprehension of the material in the face of a disappointing midterm grade, but it doesn’t have to be a struggle.

On the other hand, an exceptional midterm performance can sometimes lead to complacency — a feeling that the class simply isn’t challenging enough. True to its name, the midterm is only the halfway point of the course, and while you might understand the subject at that point, the content covered in the latter half of the semester may end up being more challenging than expected.

Ideally, a midterm should be a healthy reflection of your progress, and it is ultimately your interpretation of that progress that will determine your expectations from the course and from yourself. As we continue forward into the rest of this semester, consider how you approach your tests, where you may be stressing too much and how you might be able to improve your perspective.