The Finals Countdown! (If You’re Studying for Them, Breathe . . .)


purple flower


It’s that time of year. If you’re one of the students under pressure to perform on finals, here are a few quick tips to calm you down a bit:

  1. Don’t multitask (for goodness’ sake). It’s amazing – the powers of applying your entire brain to the task at hand. So, don’t have your phone in sight just in case you miss a text. Hide it or switch it to airplane mode for the time being. Don’t have other windows open if you’re using a computer or tablet to study. Conjure up that (old-fashioned?) image of the solitary student bent over a book in a quiet library – that method really works. You owe it to yourself to concentrate when you’re studying for important tests.
  2. Take occasional breaks. Give yourself a short rest at least every couple hours if you’re in a marathon study session. Stretch and take brief walks in the sunshine, if possible; perhaps take a lap around the building. At the very least, physically move away from your desk for a bit.
  3. Listen to New Age music. As a student, I’ve always preferred Classical as background when getting down to business; but recently, I’ve realized New Age – the kind of soothing music one hears at a spa while getting a massage – also can be excellent music for concentration. Personally, I find it most efficient to check out CDs from the library’s New Age section. I grab what looks interesting, and later usually discover I don’t like some of the albums, but I find others excellent for calming the anxious mind.
  4. Stay grateful. Keep in mind if you’re studying for finals, you’re in a group of lucky people enjoying the opportunity to earn an education. So even if the going seems rough at times, remember you’re partaking in a precious gift.

Good luck! –And for more Finals goodies, including study tips, click “exams” on this blog’s word cloud . . .

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What Olympians Do that All College Students Should

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Ice hockey

Never easy

I’ve long thought athletic competition a useful analogy to academic striving; students seem to understand athletes need to practice long hours to perfect their techniques, but those same students can cloud over when being reminded they need to work long hours to learn.

To illustrate, here are a few specific things Olympians do, with notes on how each can be applied to academics:

They must face their fears; they must bounce back from injury
Olympians, and athletes in general, must cope with the possibility of falling in any way short of the goal they’ve set. Who wants to be eliminated? Who wants to work for years only to be sidelined from the game with an injury? Of course competitive athletes accept that failure is a possibility and charge ahead with confidence. Time after time we hear of Olympians who had to sit out a certain Olympics or world championship, who had surgery only months before and know they may suffer a physical limitation, and so on; yet they come back and persevere as soon as they’re healthy enough to do so. In contrast, I’ve seen so many students with potential who, unfortunately, don’t seem to have the fortitude to bounce back from a failed class, even a failed assignment, and continue on with their education. They let one low grade or one negative experience discourage them – one! Listening to the stories of some ultimately successful world-class athletes, I realize many of them have a considerable number of setbacks, failures, and injuries. Babe Ruth said “Never let the fear of striking out get in your way.”

They must set personal problems aside and focus
This is closely related to the first; so many students in the community-college classes I’ve taught have had sad circumstances in life and obstacles – family-related, financial, medical, psychological. Those who really hunger for their degree – those “going for the gold” – are able to set those problems aside and focus on learning. Many times I’ve advised students who are dealing with very serious and time-consuming problems to come back to school after their crises are over. College does indeed require focus and dedication, and students have to be able to supply that when the time is right.

They must not cheat
We all know of high-profile athletes who were found to have cheated, but I don’t think many of us think this dishonesty is an admirable, or even acceptable, trait. Maybe for some athletes the specter of getting caught is the only thing that keeps them honest; but for the athletes with character, cheating is unacceptable because to do it would be utterly disgraceful. With 43% percent of undergraduate students on one large survey admitting to being academically dishonest (1), I wonder how many students think of cheating on papers and tests in the same light: that to do it is disgraceful and defeats the entire purpose of being a student. I believe some students see some of their classes as mere means to an end (diploma or degree) and thus rationalize plagiarism and academic dishonesty. But learning is and ought to be about self-improvement, and as such it is self-defeating to ingest “performance-enhancing drugs” in order to deceive oneself and everyone to whom one has lied about credentials.

They must perform under pressure
This is obvious when thinking of Olympians competing on “the world stage,” but students, in particular college students, perform under pressure as a matter of course: for instance, on exams and other time-sensitive projects; when knowing their scholarships depend on certain grades; and in some cases, when knowing their precious time is limited and must be shared with various family duties. Both athletes and students need to know themselves and know their stress-inducing triggers, and practice methods of coping with pressure.

They must take into account their “personal best” as well as their score
When I was watching ice dancing, I noticed the commentators revealing to us which scores were “personal best” marks for the couples – regardless of their standing with the others. I also recall high school track, in which the “personal best” time for a race was met with respect from any coach. So I don’t quite understand why students seem frustrated when their scores over time rise, but might not be high “A.” It is a big deal to achieve a personal best, and if, so far in the class, a score has moved from 61 to 71, that is a wonderful thing; it might not be the numbers that student was hoping for, but the important thing sometimes is that the needle – a barometer of mastery – is moving up.

They must practice and work hard
We know, we just know, that the figure skaters and skiers and hockey players we see on TV have practiced. And practiced. And practiced, in order to achieve their level of performance. Coaching and talent contribute, of course, but the “99% perspiration” element is not a new or surprising idea. So, again, when I read surveys in which students admit they aren’t giving their all to academics, aren’t taking that much time to study, I believe it should be no surprise when those same students aren’t learning very much, and also (it follows) aren’t getting very good grades. Anything worth mastering will take time and practice!

(1)    The McCabe survey summary information is found here:

Older posts on this blog inspired by the Olympics:
A Bit of Learning in Honor of the Olympics
What College Students Can Learn from Olympians

Image via Wikimedia Commons: Slovakia vs USA, men’s ice hockey, Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics, credit: Atos International via Flickr.

Wi-Fi on Campus, Studying on Phones . . .

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tiny frog

Smaller is better?

Here is a story about how some universities struggle to keep up with students’ demand for ever-more bandwidth – a demand driven, the article notes, by the laptops, smartphones, and tablets being brought to campus. Though students seem to expect wireless will be there, naturally, on campus and will work at the speed they desire, all this access costs money, and hence the rub: universities across the US are

“exhausting their budgets just to maintain their existing networks while congestion threatens to choke their online traffic.”

Where’s that money really going, after all? Well, one might ask what students are doing on their electronic devices – surely, study some of the time, and surely, engage in extra-curriculars too. Whatever they’re doing, they’re doing it a lot – and the healthiness of being “always on, all the time” via mobile device is addressed in this interesting piece: “Smartphone Addiction.”

Back to the studying, though – when it comes to the use of phones for schoolwork, I (like some commenters to the article) wonder how much deep learning can be done on a phone’s tiny screen. As people haven’t had tiny screens on which to study before, I suppose the verdict is still out; but the experience of trying to focus on learning material a few inches square at a time seems to me unnecessarily onerous.

At any rate, if you, students, are attempting to study on a teeny device and are running into problems remembering what you read (as manifested in your grades), try studying via a book or at least a bigger screen. Also, try taking notes and annotating your readings, and do all this in an environment free of distraction. It’s easier said than done, but it could make the difference in your learning and your grades.

Articles cited above: “Device Explosion” by Carl Straumsheim, Inside Higher Ed, 9/5/13.
“Smartphone Addiction” by Stephen Pirog, Inside Higher Ed (“Academic Minute” recording), 3/18/13.

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Back-to-College Articles with Helpful Advice

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backpack girl

Also, don’t strain your back

Whether you’re a new or returning college student, traditional or non-trad, part- or full-time, you’re probably open to some tips on how to navigate what is often a difficult experience – and the resources below offer helpful suggestions:
From MIT Admissions: 50 things for freshmen to consider as they embark upon their college journey (by Ben Jones).
“Back to school: Advice on how to adjust to college from someone who’s been there”: current students reveal their best back-to-school advice for college freshmen. (By Shawn Christ, The Patriot-News,
“Lessons Learned: Seven Tips for Returning to College”: this one is written from the point of view of a nontraditional student (by Suzanne T. Jackson,
This piece gives simple but useful advice to non-trads balancing work and college (“How about a Little Free Homework Help” at The 30 Something Student).
“Ten Tips You Need to Survive College”: This page offers some good basic advice on studying. Check it out for useful refreshers. From Middle Tennessee State University.

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Score Higher on Finals

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kitchen prep

Preparation is key

If you’re a student preparing for Final Exams, reading up on exam study tips is very smart. (If reading the tips helps you earn even a little higher grade, or puts you even a little more at ease, isn’t the reading worth your time?) A quick internet search nets a number of articles and advice, many from college and university tutoring centers; I’ve listed just a few good articles below:

 “26 Tips for Studying for Final Exams” from Public Relations Matters, a blog authored by Dr. Barbara B. Nixon:

 “10 Tips to Help You Ace Your Final Exam” from Yahoo Voices’ Amy Brantley:

“Crazy Study Tips to Help Rock Your Final Exams” from Ryerson University’s Student Life page (this post is from Danni Gresko, a student):

Related posts on this site:
Finals Fright? Ease Your Mind with Proper Prep
Just in Time for Finals: Terrific Test-Taking Tips!

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7 Things to Do Your First Week of Class

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toy ducks

Put ’em in a row

The advent of the college term brings a flutter of activity and anticipation . . . but wait! Before you nestle down into your new routine, take a gander at this checklist and help yourself make sure the semester goes swimmingly:

  1. Buy all books and necessary e-supplements for class. This might seem obvious, but it’s important to have your materials in hand as soon as possible so you don’t fall behind in your assignments.
  2. Read the syllabus very carefully. Make note of your professor’s availability (office hours) and contact information; policies on attendance, late work, and computers or cell phones in class; and which projects will be assigned and when. The latter will help you to . . .
  3. Figure out how you’ll organize your time. I suggest using a calendar to record every assignment deadline right through the end of the semester. (See here for more on managing your time in college.)
  4. Figure out how you’ll organize your notes and study materials. Now is the time to purchase notebooks, binders, folders, and electronic storage. No one magic organization method will work for everyone, but I have observed, over the years, that my best students have been organized students. (See here for more on free organization and planning tools.)
  5. Form a technology “Plan B” in case your primary computer fails. Computers are not our friends, and many profs don’t accept late work. Thus you must have a plan in place for the last-minute crash, file corruption, or internet outage. Perhaps you have access to a roommate’s or family member’s computer; maybe you live on campus and may use a computer lab; perhaps a public library is nearby. In any case, plan your emergency computer backup plan NOW – before you get too far into the semester. I can’t stress this enough!
  6. Make note of resources your college offers, such as tutoring, organized study groups, library services, academic advising, counseling, and financial aid. These resources probably are easy to find on your college’s website; I suggest noting appropriate contact information and keeping it in a place you visit often. You may need to use those resources come mid-semester.
  7. Jump into the first week’s assignments right away! This is particularly important for online classes, in which students sometimes feel a lesser sense of urgency but in which deadlines tend to be frequent and intense. It’s a bad idea to be behind at the very beginning of class, so be sure to stay on top of your commitments.

Good luck and happy learning!

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The Nutcracker & Collegiate Studies

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Art is tough

Art is tough

It’s Nutcracker season! I’m thrilled to have seen the beautiful ballet live this year, and a couple of things occurred to me as I watched the show.

To dance well is terrifically difficult and demands enormous dedication, conditioning, and hard work — yet the best dancers make it look effortless. Similarly, learning requires effort and a desire to learn on the student’s part. Many of us have found certain subjects difficult to grasp, and studying these subjects can be grueling and painful. I see no way around the fact that learning can be unpleasant and extremely difficult at times — just as ballet (or other) training is. But the rewards are to follow.

As an art form, ballet suggests flowing, floating and flying – and it does this through the strength, balance, and grace of the dancers’ bodies. Hence we can see, on stage, a representation of the beautiful thing that is hard-won achievement. The work, the hours of practice, are edifying in themselves — but then there is the splendor of a performance that’s fantastically fun for the dancers, and uplifting and deeply appreciated by the larger world.

As a student, you may find yourself mired in difficult studies, even at times unmotivated to persevere; but keep working to condition your mind. You and everyone else will, at last, love the dance!

The Nutcracker on the web:

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Studying for Tests: One Simple Yet Effective Method

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studying on stairs

‘Tis the season

College teaching expert Dr. Maryellen Weimer recently posted about an intriguing technique that helps students study for tests: assigning them to write their own questions. (Although profs may or may not use those questions on the test, the exercise is a healthy one for student learning.)

So I pass this along as something you certainly may practice on your own: next time you have a test (and with end-of-semester looming, that’s likely to be soon), try it. Write your own little set of test questions, and better yet, form a study group where several of you write homemade tests on your own, and then share, taking turns answering the questions. (Do be aware the questions themselves might need clarifying and revising, as the article discusses).

In the process of writing tests for yourself, you’re forced to go back through your class notes and materials, and are likely to hit upon many of the major concepts you need to know. Then, after you’ve taken a number of college-level tests and exams, you’re likely to get better at anticipating test questions, and will find this activity even more effective.

Good luck and happy studying!

Article discussed here is “Getting Answer-Oriented Students to Focus on the Questions” (The Teaching Professor Blog at Faculty Focus), 11/14/12, by Maryellen Weimer.

Related posts on this site:

Finals Fright? Ease Your Mind with Proper Prep
Just in Time for Finals: Terrific Test-Taking Tips!
Drawing on Your Memory: A Test Prep Method

What test-review methods do you recommend?

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Classroom Multitasking: Why Not? Well . . .

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Horse sense

Check out this article that discusses recent studies on student multitasking during class time. The studies provide some hard evidence that multitasking = diminished academic performance. So if you’re serious about being a good student, work on your powers of focusing on just one thing during class . . . class!

“Students Think They Can Multitask. Here’s Proof They Can’t” (Dr. Maryellen Weimer, Faculty Focus, 9/26/12).

Image via mrg. bz / hotblack

Related reading on this site:
7 Things Not to Do in College
Texting in Class: “Ill-Mannered” or NBD?
More Multitasking Murmurs . . .
How To Set the Stage for Effective Studying

Related reading around the web:

7 Things Not to Do in College


irritated cat

We do not recommend

First-time college students, as you head off to class, try to avoid these common transgressions against one’s own academic interests . . .

1. Don’t read the syllabus or directions for individual assignments. Be sure to read through your syllabus on day one, and keep it close at hand for future reference. Also, print and scrutinize your individual assignment directions.

Questions are usually welcome, but when you have a question, always read over what you’ve been given to see if you can figure out the answer yourself first.

2. Skip class (or don’t log in regularly for an online class). Sure, you have the freedom to skip class – but is that the smartest thing to do when class is designed to teach you the material? Answer: no. You’re severely shortchanging your education when you don’t attend class, and you’re likely to fall behind, get frustrated, and even drop the class if you miss much.

3. Come to class, but throughout class, text, browse on Facebook, chat with neighbors, etc. It’s great to come to class, but sitting there whilst multitasking or socializing probably isn’t going to help you. Even a once-a-week night class or lab isn’t, in truth, interminably long; so remember why you’re in school and concentrate on the moment, take notes, and soak up the learning (not to mention respect others in the room!).

4. Expect good grades as a “given.” To first-year students, college is frequently a shock in terms of its expectations and standards; if you’re dismayed at grasping this, you are in very good company. Of course, good grades in college are achievable; but keep in mind they’re reflections of performance on particular assignments for particular classes. They’re not reflections of you as a person or even, necessarily, of your academic abilities. Keep working to improve and learn, and above all don’t expect high marks for mediocre work – in other words, eschew the so-called “attitude of entitlement.”

5. Have your parents call the school to straighten out your issues. It’s a relatively recent phenomenon that puzzles professors and administrators: parents of adult children contact college faculty and staff to serve as students’ agents. This is generally seen as irritating and unnecessary: you, as a student, should take ownership of your education and all related responsibilities.

6. Complain straight to the Dean rather than going to your instructor when you get a grade you don’t like. This is not to say you should stay away from visiting professors and tutors in order to discuss and better understand class material. I’m talking about students who suddenly spring to life when they have a complaint (many times about a grade or about rigor of the class), and go straight to “the manager” instead of approaching their professors. This is counterproductive and only serves to annoy and waste time of everyone involved. That’s because the Chair or Dean is generally going to send you back to your instructor anyway. Expend your energy on learning the class material, not on complaining about how hard it is.

Now, students of course may have legitimate complaints about the course, such as when a professor habitually cancels class or does not give clear directions – but even in these cases, always, always approach the professor first if at all possible; and approach in a friendly way, establishing that you’re trying your best to learn and learning is your chief concern.

7. Cheat. Don’t plagiarize; don’t be academically dishonest. It’s wrong, plus penalties may include failing the assignment, failing the class, or being expelled from the school.

And finally, some words of encouragement: in general, although it’s probably true that some of your professors will be better than others at teaching and communicating, and some of your classes you’ll enjoy more than others, try to keep your head up and basically, act with dignity as you seek out learning. You always have options when you get stuck, such as visiting the instructor during office hours, using tutoring services, or forming study groups. Good luck!

Feel free to add other ways students act against their own interests – and solutions . . .

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