Tackling finals harder under stress

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With finals quickly approaching, students are asking professors for last minute help or extra credit assignments to pad their grades.

“I sense a lot of stress in my students as finals get closer and closer, and asking [for] special favors and things like that,” said Ross Decker, associate professor of mathematics.

When talking to his past teacher’s assistant about the struggle his current students are experiencing, the teacher’s assistant said he never felt stressed about Decker’s final because he kept up with the workload, Decker said.

“That’s my biggest advice,” Decker said. “There’s not nearly as much stress if you do a good job keeping up.”

Keep up

Decker said he knows too many students who try to get away with doing five weeks of work in a 16-week semester.  

“I know life gets busy, but you’ve got to make choices,” Decker said. “If you want to be a good student, you might have to sacrifice a little bit.”

Decker said on average the students who score higher on final exams are the students who go into the tests more confident. One of the ways to feel confident in a subject or exam is to keep up with the work and study, Decker said.

“[Keeping up with your work allows] your professor more opportunity to help you,” Decker said. “When you aren’t keeping up, you aren’t taking advantage of that valuable resource and class time to get the professor’s help.”

Brain power

Katherine Leigh, an assistant professor of chemistry, said her two biggest pieces of advice would be to break the course work into smaller sections and make sure to get enough sleep.

“That’s how our brains work,” Leigh said. “You need to review things a little bit every day; don’t cram, you won’t remember it.”

Leigh also said when you don’t get enough sleep, the amount of time spent studying won’t matter because your brain won’t be able to recall the information.

“A lot of times I’ve heard students talk about how they’ve stayed up so late at night and it’s kind of a badge of honor,” Leigh said.

Leigh said from an instructor’s perspective it’s counterintuitive because the students who pull all-nighters before finals won’t be able to put their best foot forward.

“Yes, you spent a lot of time [studying], but was it [time well spent]?” Leigh said.

Brandon Bodily, a junior computer science major from Goldsboro, North Carolina, said the best advice he could give for performing well on final exams is to study throughout the semester so students are prepared when finals come around.

“Just go to class beforehand [and] know your stuff,” Bodily said. “You can’t just study [all of the material]… a couple days before.”

Financial stress

Like many students, Bodily relies on a high GPA to pay for college with an academic scholarship and he said this time of year can bring about a financial stress, as well.

“I’m anxious [because] if I don’t get all A’s, I lose my scholarship and I have to pay for next year,” Bodily said. “So I’m definitely stressing out.”

Leigh said studies have shown stress can impair a student’s ability to perform well on exams.

“Everybody does better when they’re not stressed, and so I don’t love finals week for that reason,” Leigh said. “Sometimes you just can’t get around it.”

Going to the gym is one of the best ways he can cope with the added pressure, Bodily said.

“Just having my day set up and a work schedule so at the end of the day I have time to relax [helps so] I’m not just doing it all day, every day,” Bodily said.

Health matters

Decker and Leigh both agreed health habits are also important when preparing for finals.

“Get out and do something,” Decker said. “Get up and walk around; don’t sit there with your nose crammed into your studies five hours straight.”

Decker said students should be preparing for finals at the beginning of the semester to ensure they will succeed in the end of the year.

“So confidence, staying caught up [and not saving] everything until the very end [is] the recipe for success,” Decker said.