6 Tips for Finals Success

Finals makes many students feel anxious, intimidated, and stressed. Feeling overwhelmed by the difficulty of making through final exams is a common theme for UNC students. Exam success can still be in your future! Here are 6 tips from the UNC Learning Center that might help you or your friends:

Photo:
Photo: “Finals Week Sping 2012-005” by Penn State. Flickr Creative Commons.

1. Prioritize to help make decisions about how much time to allot to prep for each exam.

  • Which exams will be hardest?
  • What portion of my grade is each exam worth?
  • How much time should I spend on each exam based on how I answered those questions?

2. Find out what you know. 

Use your syllabi to make a list of key concepts you need to know for the test.

Hide all notes and books and test your understanding on each key concept. Ask yourself how well you can summarize main ideas, do sample problems, recall facts from memory, and apply concepts in a new way.

Finally, rate yourself. How did you do? Rate your skill and understanding on each bit of content from your list using this sample scale: 3= I know this well | 2= I know this some | 1= don’t know this at all

3. Make a smart study plan.

Make a study guide, merging main ideas from class notes and readings.

Find ways to actively engage with the material and stay accountable to learning. Reviewing lecture notes and assigned readings can often be too passive.  Use active study strategies to practice the content you rated with a 1 or 2:

  • Make mind maps, time-lines, or flashcards.
  • Study with a partner.
  • Teach concepts to someone else.
  • Write or speak aloud the main ideas.
  • Generate higher-level thinking questions to test yourself with.

4. Make a smart study plan (part deux).

Once you’ve selected study tasks for the concepts you rated 1 and 2, estimate how much time you will need to complete them. Look over your calendar and lay out a plan, noting exactly what you will be doing and for how long. Break down studying into specific, discrete tasks. “Study Chem” is too vague.  “Complete practice problems from chapter 3” is specific. Estimate how long each task might take and compare it to available time.  Create an “appointment” to complete practice problems.

5. Test yourself.

When you’ve completed your Study Plan, it’s time to test yourself again. Hide all your materials and test your understanding on concepts you rated 1 and 2 the same way you did in Step 1.

  • Can you do a problem from memory?
  • Can you restate or rewrite what you learned?
  • Can you teach these concepts to a friend?
  • Can you answer questions you generated (not simple recall!)

Still stuck on a particular concept? Keep practicing!

6. Come to the Learning Center!

In addition to the strategies above, you can come to the Learning Center for our Study Boot Camps. Find out more about our Boot Camps and other services such as Academic Coaching and Peer Tutoring at http://learningcenter.unc.edu/.

This blog article was written by Bob Pleasants, Assistant Director of the UNC Learning Center. It has been edited for clarity and reposted. 

Friends with (Grade-Improving) Benefits: Finals Edition

Connecting with others during college, and especially stressful study season, has often been viewed as a distraction from success. But recent research is showing the clear benefits of friends to both your personal well-being and academic success. Bonus: both you and your buddies reap the rewards of friendship!

Here are ways you can help each other succeed during Finals Season:

Support each other’s work.

2483952540_b85e45dd54
Even pets can help!

You can help your friends in so many ways – and doing so will help you too!

  • Use study groups to amplify your learning.
  • Teach each other the information you’ve learned.
  • Quiz each other on information you’ll need to know.
  • Proofread each other’s essays.
  • Hold each other accountable to study goals.

Affirm each other.

33409493042_c860d3d87f
A high five while jumping in the snow is one of the best affirmations.

Celebrate efforts together. After y’all have been studying for a while, find something healthy and fun to do together to celebrate being done studying. As a reminder: focus on the effort rather than the outcome. An A on a test is great, but everyone will feel more supported when others notice the time put into studying instead of the grade received.

Support healthy behaviors.

4677568734_f81eabb41a
Generally doing anything that makes you feel like a kid again counts as health-supportive.

When you celebrate study sessions or the end of finals, do it in a healthy way. Move your body together – go for bike rides, walk and talk, play a round of golf – whatever sounds fun to everyone. Be body positive and food positive – no body- or food-shaming allowed! Encourage sleep and find ways to help your friends sleep well. Earplugs, white noise machines, and light-blocking window shades or eye masks are helpful gifts to friends or roommates during finals and always!

Avoid stress competition.

6273248505_c47f7c76d1
Stress is not a competition.

We know the typical answer to “how are you doing?” – especially during finals – is “stressed” or “busy.” But this perpetuates the idea that to survive at UNC means being constantly stressed. A better answer? “I have been working hard.” Or tell your friend something fun you recently did and asking them what they’ve been doing to take a break.

Listen.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Even the walls recognize the importance of listening.

Feeling genuinely heard and accepted is one of our most important needs, and it doesn’t go away during finals.  Providing empathy and acceptance is one of the most soothing things one can do for another.

As the listener:

  • Try to give your full attention.
  • Show that you are listening by maintaining eye contact.
  • Use body language to show you’re paying attention. Nodding your head and mirroring your friend’s feelings with your facial expressions can make people feel heard.
  • Listen non-judgmentally – meaning resist the impulse to judge who is right or wrong, good or bad, should or should not have done something.
  • Try not to make assumptions.
  • Reflect back what you hear and ask the person with, “did I get it?”
  • Ask, “What would help?”
  • Don’t be too quick to “fix” the problem or give advice.  Make sure you show you understand what the other person’s needs and feelings are first.

Be like family.

5103100920_7f7e7faeee
Hugs for the win!

What did your family do to support you during high-stress times? Some ideas:

  • Cook each other dinner.
  • Ask if your friend needs anything when you head to the store.
  • Invite your friend to join you on study breaks.
  • Walk together to get to study locations.
  • Make your shared living spaces environments that are great for studying and connecting.
  • Find healthy ways to celebrate when classes or a big final are over.
  • Be authentic with each other.

Ultimately, you help create the vibe on campus during finals and the community you need to be successful. We guarantee that supporting your friends and the benefits you’ll reap in return will be worth it.

This blog was written by Sara Stahlman, Marketing and Communication Coordinator and revised for finals. 

Finals Nutrition: Fuel your Brain

For many people, the nutrition facts found on the back of food packages are confusing. They are meant for the general population, and thus cannot provide the information necessary for individual dietary needs. Your individual needs are based on your gender, age, size, physical activity level, and many other factors.

According to UNC Campus Health’s registered dietitian, most students only need to follow one simple rule to eat healthy during finals and otherwise: MyPlate.

 Image courtesy of ChooseMyPlate.gov.
Image courtesy of ChooseMyPlate.gov.

MyPlate is an easy nutrition guide. It reminds us to fill half of your plate with fruits and vegetables, with the other half split equally with grains and protein. Following MyPlate means you’re more likely to eat balanced meals and snacks that meet your nutritional needs.

Think about a “typical” American breakfast. 1/2 of it as fruits and veggies? That’s not going to happen with a bowl of cereal or oatmeal, or a plate of bacon and eggs. Eating the nutrient-dense colorful fruits and veggies takes a bit of effort and creativity!

Some examples of a well-balanced meal:

  • Spaghetti with heavy-on-the-veggies sauce plus a salad on the side.
  • Pizza with veggies on top and a salad on the side.
  • Breakfast salad (e.g. eggs and bacon on top of greens and roasted veggies)
  • Quinoa salad

A well-balanced snack can use the Plate method as well, or think about making sure each snack has fat, fiber and protein.

  • Yogurt and granola with berries on top
  • Fresh veggies and hummus
  • Almonds and kale chips
  • Good ol’ raisins and peanuts
  • Apple and nut butter

These can be tough to find on campus – so plan ahead and bring them with you!

Finals is a tough time, but will be even tougher if you don’t nourish your body and brain.

If you are interested in receiving more information about nutrition, make an appointment with Nutrition Services at Campus Health Services.

This post was adapted from one by Justin Chu, a former nutrition graduate student and program assistant at Student Wellness. 

Friends with (success-inducing) Benefits: How to Help You and Your Friends Succeed in College

Connecting with others in college has often been viewed as a distraction from the ultimate goals of your education. But recent research is showing the clear benefits of a social network of friends to personal well-being and academic success. Bonus: all parties reap the rewards of friendship!

Here are ways you can help each other succeed:

Support each other’s work.

2483952540_b85e45dd54
Even pets can help!

Any of your friends can proofread your papers or remind you of due dates. And you can build friendships from your academic interactions.

  • Talk to your classmates and set up study groups.
  • Create a reading group where you share the reading load and write up summaries for group members.
  • Schedule opportunities to engage with your classmates outside of class.

These types of friendships have been shown to have the most positive academic impact on everyone’s academic success.

Affirm each other.

33409493042_c860d3d87f
A high five while jumping in the snow is one of the best affirmations.

Celebrate efforts together. After your friend has been studying non-stop for an exam, go to a soccer game together to celebrate being done studying. As a reminder: focus on the effort rather than the outcome. An A on a test is great, but your friend will feel more supported when you notice the time she put into studying instead of the grade received.

Support healthy behaviors.

4677568734_f81eabb41a
Generally doing anything that makes you feel like a kid again counts as health-supportive.

Hang out while moving your body – go for bike rides, walk and talk, play a round of golf – whatever sounds fun. Be body positive and food positive – no body- or food-shaming allowed! Encourage sleep and find ways to help your friends sleep well. Earplugs, white noise machines, and light-blocking window shades or eye masks are helpful gifts to friends or roommates.

Avoid stress competition.

6273248505_c47f7c76d1
Stress is not a competition.

We know the typical answer to “how are you doing?” is “stressed” or “busy.” But this perpetuates the idea that to be a UNC student means you’re constantly stressed. A better answer? “Life is full right now.” Or telling your friend something fun you recently did and asking them what they’ve been doing to take a break.

Listen.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Even the walls recognize the importance of listening.

Feeling genuinely heard and accepted is one of our most important needs.  Providing empathy and acceptance is one of the most soothing things one can do for another.

As the listener:

  • Try to give your full attention.
  • Show that you are listening by maintaining eye contact.
  • Use body language to show you’re paying attention. Nodding your head and mirroring your friend’s feelings with your facial expressions can make people feel heard.
  • Listen non-judgmentally – meaning resist the impulse to judge who is right or wrong, good or bad, should or should not have done something.
  • Try not to make assumptions.
  • Reflect back what you hear and ask the person with, “did I get it?”
  • Ask, “What would help?”
  • Don’t be too quick to “fix” the problem or give advice.  Make sure you show you understand what the other person’s needs and feelings are first.

Be like family.

5103100920_7f7e7faeee
Hugs for the win!

What did your family do to support you that you loved? Some ideas:

  • Cook each other dinner.
  • Ask if your friend needs anything when you head to the store.
  • Invite your friend to join you on outings.
  • Celebrate milestones together.
  • Be authentic with each other.

Ultimately, you have an opportunity at UNC to create the community you need to be successful here. Sometimes that takes a bit of vulnerability to put yourself out there or to be honest with someone about your current challenges, but we guarantee it’s worth the effort.

Having trouble getting connected? If you’re in the residence hall, check in with your RA or Community Director staff. If you’re not living on campus, look into student organizations that fit your interests.

This blog was written by Sara Stahlman, Marketing and Communication Coordinator. 

Study Drugs: Why the Cons Outweigh the Pros

UNC Chapel Hill is full of exciting opportunities, classes, clubs, organizations, and events. The sheer number of activities is one of the reasons this school is so great. You’ll find offerings for a range of interests: clubs focusing on academics and future professions, music and theater, Greek life, politics, sports, and so much more.

But before you sign up for all 15 activities that have interest you, make sure you have enough time to devote to everything. Getting good grades, trying to stay involved on campus, and maintaining a social life can put students at risk for becoming overwhelmed. And being overwhelmed puts students at risk for using stimulants, or “study drugs” to help them keep up with it all.

Why do people use study drugs?

Drugs including Adderall, Vyvanse, and Ritalin are prescribed to treat Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD). Off label use for these drugs has grown on college campuses in recent years, including at UNC. Some students turn to study drugs under the mistaken belief that they will magically fix their problems – helping them stay focused, improve efficiency, and improve grades during periods of high stress.

49726757_aeceb2872f_o
Photo by Joshua Brown, Courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons

Why does it seem like everyone is doing it?

While it may feel like you constantly hear stories about friends and classmates using study drugs, the rates of misuse are not as high as they may seem. According to a study conducted by The Coalition to Prevent ADHD Medication Misuse, 75% of students believe that some of their peers have illegally used ADHD prescription stimulant medication. However, a recent survey conducted at the University of Texas found that 87% of students do not use study drugs.

Clearly most students aren’t misusing these drugs, but a problem does exist. In 2011, the National Institute for Drug Abuse found the 9.8% of college students had illegally used Adderall and the rates have continued to increase, especially at universities with competitive academics and admissions processes.

I need to focus! Why not use study drugs?

Stimulant medications such as amphetamines (e.g., Adderall and Vyvanse) and methylphenidate (e.g., Ritalin) are prescribed to treat ADD and ADHD. People with ADHD have difficulty paying attention and staying focused and are more hyperactive or impulsive than their peers. These stimulants increase dopamine in the brain, which creates calming and focusing effects on individuals with ADHD.

People who take these drugs when they do not have ADD or ADHD can suffer from dangerous medical side effects, such as restlessness, hallucinations, and irregular heartbeat, among others. Long term misuse of study drugs can even cause addiction and withdrawal symptoms like fatigue, depression, and disturbed sleep.

Beyond dangerous physical side effects, there may be academic and legal consequences of the misuse of study drugs as well. Misusing study drugs violates UNC’s drug and alcoho policy, as well as the law. Those who are caught misusing study drugs can be subjected to suspension, fines, or even jail time.

While study drugs can improve focus and motivation to study, a study conducted by the National Institute on Drug Abuse found that students who abuse prescription stimulants actually have lower GPAs in high school and college than those who don’t abuse stimulants.

What can I do to increase concentration and focus without using study drugs?

  •         Get enough sleep – your brain cannot retain the information you are studying if you are tired. Try to get at least 6-7 hours a night during high stress times and 8 hours on other nights. Power naps are another great way to revitalize your brain. A 20 minute nap boosts alertness and motor learning skills like typing. Naps of 30-60 minutes are good for decision-making skills, memorization, and recall. 60-90 minute naps help to make new connections in your brain and to solve creative problems.
  •         Create a To-Do list and a schedule – this helps you to remember what/how much work you have to do and is a good reminder when you want to take a break or get on Facebook to manage your time efficiently
  •         Take breaks when you need it! While a break may seem counterintuitive when you have an insane amount of work, you will be more productive and more efficient if you let your mind rest every once in awhile. Use these breaks to practice other healthy and self-care behaviors such as going to the gym, eating a well-balanced meal/snack, practicing mindfulness or meditation, or another activity that distracts you from the information you are studying. Breaks, of an hour or even just 5 minutes, will promote good studying and information retention.
  •        The Learning Center offers peer tutoring, academic coaching, reading skills help, study groups, test prep resources, skill-building workshops, and other services for students. They also offer support for students with ADHD and other learning disabilities.
  •         If the stress is becoming too much, Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS), is located within Campus Health, and offers counseling services where you can discuss your stress and develop strategies and plans to healthily combat it. 

 

This blog originally posted in 2016. It was updated in April 2018 for clarity and content by Sara Stahlman, Marketing and Communication Coordinator at Campus Health Services.