Finals Week: Survive, Thrive, and Celebrate!

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It hardly seems possible, but in just over two weeks, the semester will be over. Chances are, you’re excited about vacation and the holidays – and can’t wait until finals are behind you. After all, Exam Week means study sessions during which you cram for finals and churn out one capstone essay after another.

Being nervous about the semester’s end is normal. But staying up all night to review notes and finish assignments isn’t healthy or effective. When you’re sleep-deprived, your brain doesn’t work as well, so you don’t absorb as much information as you would if you were rested. You also make careless errors. (All of us at Academic Support teach, and we recognize the work you finish at 4 am. Trust us.)

But if you’re not staying up all night to get through Finals Week, how will you finish your work? Fortunately, you can sail through the end of the semester without losing your sleep or sanity. Here are some tips to keep you focused during exams:

1.) Start Early; Break It Up. Many people begin shopping for the holidays long before December 1st. You should start studying for exams well in advance of Finals Week. Review your notes and previous tests, if applicable, for 10-20 minutes each day. This way, the information will be fresh and firm in your mind. Also, divide writing assignments into manageable chunks. You might create an outline one day, write a rough draft the next day, and revise your essay the day after that.

2.) Prioritize. Yes, being a college student means juggling a lot of commitments: classes, activities, part-time work, a social life, and family. And the end of the semester, combined with the holidays, can amplify these obligations. That’s why now, more than ever, you need to remind yourself of why you’re here. Promise yourself you’ll enjoy an outing with friends – after you finish your sociology take-home exam.

3.) Take Care. Telling yourself you’ll be able to relax after Finals can propel you through a tough week. However, don’t save all of your treats for the holidays. Schedule short breaks during Exam Week to exercise, connect with friends or family, or simply curl up with a book or movie. Making room for fun keeps you healthy and motivated; it’s also a valuable time management skill.

4.) Be Grateful. Let’s face it: if you’re in a position to fret about finals, you’re a pretty lucky person. Lots of people, in the US and overseas, cannot access higher education. When the assignments multiply and stress piles up, take a deep breath. Remind yourself of how privileged you are to be able to study something you love and pursue the life you want.

Finals Week doesn’t have to mean sleepless nights, too much caffeine, and harried students. As the year draws to a close, use this time to reflect on how much you’ve learned and celebrate how far you’ve come.

-Dorothy A. Dahm

Dodging Distractions

It’s a typical evening at college. You are armed with your textbook, laptop, notes, and your churning brain to write a report for your science class. Your fingers hover over the keyboard as you try to force your brain to form words to type. Nothing is coming to your mind, and you are frustrated. It feels like you are trying to decipher the English language to be able to use it.

Frustrated, you reach for your phone or open another tab on your laptop to check on your social media. You text your friends, you tweet about how hard it is to write this science report, you look up a question that randomly flew into your head, and you end up reading an article about cats and how they have complete control over you. Suddenly, you realize an hour has passed, and you haven’t even tried to go back to type your report.

Sounds familiar, right? Okay, maybe it wasn’t a cat article, but you get my point: we all get distracted! In our everyday modern life, we are surrounded by so many distractions that it can be hard to focus on our daily tasks. You are not alone! Your fellow students, professors, and even your parents have to battle distractions to get their work done every single day.

It is our job to train ourselves with healthier habits that can help us stay on task and finish what our homework. That being said, it does not mean you cannot have a social life or a paid job. However, as a full-time student, you have a full-time job to complete and balance your studies and work. You need to arrange your life around your classes, not the other way around.

Here are some helpful tips to maintain a less stressful and distraction-free semester:

  1. Find Your Niche. Have a place that is designated as your study area. If you repeatedly use the same area over a long period of time, it is easier for the brain to seamlessly go into homework or study mode. This can be anywhere that works for you! If you need extra quiet time, you can always go to the circulation desk in the library and ask for a key to one of the study carrels on the second floor.
  2. Turn It Off. Simply turn off your electronics so that if a notification sounds or lights up your screen, there will not be a need to check your phone. Some people need background music to study. Perhaps that’s you! If so, put on some light, instrumental music, and let your creative juices flow!
  3. Plan It. Set aside a block of time for your studies. In that way, you will go to your study place and have time saved for that use only just as you would for a class.
  4. Do Intervals. Research shows that if you study or work for 20-25 minutes on a paper and then take 5-10 minute break, you will think more quickly and complete assignments faster. The study interval gives the brain time to focus and relax.
  5. Balance. Have time for your studies and for your social life. It is hard, if not impossible, to juggle both at the same time and play catch up on one or both. Balancing allows you to relax and enjoy your friends’ company and have a better quality of work. Schedule time for your studying and homework and then make time for your social life. To make this more effective for you, start papers sooner and spend an hour each day working on that paper. The result will be less stress and more time to spend with friends.

Imagine your grades improving, having a social life, and stressing less about your classes. Sounds pretty awesome, doesn’t it? By eliminating distractions and promoting healthier habits of studying, you become more effective in different areas of life, especially when you graduate from college and move onto your career. The best part is that the tool that you need to accomplish distraction-free studying is you. You are your own key to success.

-Sierra Fales

Sierra Fales is a junior English major at Castleton University.

Sports and School: Finding the Perfect Balance

Before the school year began, you were more than excited for a new year and a new team.  It felt so good to say you were a collegiate student athlete—the best of both worlds.  But then….reality kicked in: an exam on Monday, a team meeting Tuesday, two ten page papers due by Wednesday, an away game on Thursday and community service on Friday?!…and, of course, the infamous question: “Do I even get to eat today?!”

Don’t worry—it’s NOT impossible. Take it from someone with a cumulative GPA of 3.9 and four years of varsity experience.  Since freshman year, I have had over fifteen professors and have experienced both the soccer and track and field teams.  Check out these strategies I have developed to keep my stress under control: 

 

  1. Organize. The first step of managing your time is organizing your time. When I say organize, I don’t just mean color coordinating notebooks and planners.  Have a calendar on which you write sport AND school events.  Make “to-do” lists and determine which items are the most important—complete these first. 

 

  1. Plan ahead. Classes and practices are bound to interfere with one another.  Before this happens, carefully look over your comprehensive schedule.  When you come across a conflict, be proactive.  Immediately inform your coach and professors, and let them know what your situation is.  All parties will respond more graciously if you inform them well in advance—that’s a guarantee!

 

  1. Communicate. You are not the first student-athlete to struggle with time management.  Coaches and professors have taught many just like you, so don’t be afraid to reach out to them.  Not only is this suggested, it’s completely necessary! No one can read your mind, so you need to advocate for yourself.  Let someone know if things seem to be getting out of hand.  Coaches and professors are not only here to teach; they are here to help.  Let them. 

 

  1. Make time for yourself. This is much easier said than done.  However, it’s the most important.  If you don’t take care of your body, you will underperform in school and sports.  Taking care of your body doesn’t only pertain to diet and exercise, but also sleep habits, stress control, and mental health.  Bad habits are easily formed and their negative consequences are unavoidable.  If you aren’t sure how to be healthy in all the aforementioned aspects, talk to a captain or coach, or stop by the Wellness Center. 

If you have practiced all of these strategies, and you still feel overwhelmed, take a moment to consider your options.  Ask yourself why you are playing the sport in the first place.  Playing a collegiate sport is a lot of people’s dreams, but the reality is that it’s not for everybody.  Make sure you are playing for yourself and not for anyone else.  Play for the right reasons, and don’t settle for anything that makes you less than happy. 

Finally, sit back and enjoy the ride.  These years fly by, and it’s important you enjoy each one of them.  Please, always remember, you are never alone in this crazy college world.

-Christiana R. Carmichael

Christiana Carmichael is a senior Education Major and four-year collegiate athlete.  

 

Group Work: The Agonies – and the Possibilities

You’ve started dreading Biology. Your lab partner is nice enough, but she doesn’t do much. You have to ask her to help with the task itself, and she texts her boyfriend while you prepare the lab report. You try to get her to contribute, but she always says, “I don’t know” and copies whatever you write.

Then there’s Business Management. In groups of four, you’re working on your final project: a plan for a new business. The assignment constitutes 30% of your grade, so you want to do a good job. You’re also excited about applying the concepts you’ve been studying in class. But one guy has already appointed himself CEO of your fledgling corporation. He’s not interested in your ideas; in fact, he doesn’t let anyone do very much. This is just fine with one member of your group who is delighted to be off the hook. But two of you are getting frustrated: it’s your education, too!

If you’re a student, you know the perils of group work. Since kindergarten, you’ve also heard teachers rave about the importance of working with others.
Like it or not, collaboration is part of the academic and professional world. After graduation, you will have to contend with other people – even if you work from home, run your own business, or pursue a freelance career. Often, your colleagues will be warm, supportive, and inspiring. Sometimes, you will find yourself with a lazy, stubborn, or overbearing co-worker. You’ll have to contend with these situations without clenching your teeth, compromising your health, or leaving your position.

Here are some tips to make group projects less stressful:

1.) Set Boundaries: Before you get started, delegate tasks. Determine who is responsible for each part of a project and set deadlines. This can be casual: “I’ll answer questions one and three if you do two and four.” With larger projects, you may want to establish more formal requirements: “Rick will write the Procedures section, Liana the Analysis, and Chelsea the Recommendations. We’ll meet to discuss our drafts a week before the paper is due.” Get these arrangements in writing – or save e-mail correspondence about them – so that there is no confusion about responsibilities.

2.) Be the Teammate You Want. Don’t be lazy, don’t be disparaging, and don’t take over. It’s normal to be frustrated when the material is difficult or when your partners’ standards are different than yours. If you’re struggling with the project, get help – from your professor, classmates, or the Academic Support Center. If you find yourself with well-intentioned, but less skilled group members, help them succeed. For example, if your partner is not a strong writer, you might proofread his work and tactfully make suggestions. You might also refer him to the Writing Clinic. When he does something well, tell him so.

3.) Document Everything. Keep track of who attends meetings and contributes to the project. If a teammate isn’t pulling his or her own weight, you will be able to bring specific grievances to the professor. Use this option as a last resort: only approach your instructor after you have talked with your group member. If you must complain about a classmate, be professional. Don’t tattle or rant. Instead, express your concerns in a well-written e-mail, and attach any documentation you have.

4.) Put Your Project in Perspective. Sometimes, this means writing the lab report yourself if you want a good grade in the course. At other times, you’ll have to shrug off your lackluster discussion group. Weigh each assignment to determine how much time you want to spend nurturing group dynamics.

Regard difficult group work as you would any other obstacle: a chance to prove to yourself and your professors that you have the maturity and determination to overcome a challenge. Take a deep breath, and tell yourself that you’re developing skills you’ll use the rest of your life.

-Dorothy A. Dahm

Don’t Like Your Class or Your Teacher? Here’s How to Succeed Anyway

Chemistry’s boring. I don’t like my instructor’s teaching style. I hate English. She doesn’t know what she’s talking about. That class has nothing to do with my major or what I want to do with my life.

At Academic Support, we hear it all the time.

I won’t use this post to tell you why you should embrace Chemistry or English. I won’t defend your instructor. I won’t explain why a particular class will help you become a well-rounded person or succeed in your career. However, I will make a concession: your complaints may be legitimate.

But you’re not off the hook. First, if you’re old enough to be in college, you’re an adult – and thus responsible for your own learning. Second, when future employers and grad schools look at your transcript, there won’t be a column that explains your grades:

Ancient History C- (But her instructor was boring.)
English Composition D+ (But he never liked writing.)

There are no “buts” on transcripts. Your grade is your grade.

That said, you can keep yourself motivated even when you find yourself with a class or professor you don’t enjoy:

1.) Get Help When You Need It. Many people dislike math, writing, or other subjects they find challenging. If you’re struggling with a particular class, meet with your professor, form a study group, or visit the Academic Support Center for tutoring and other support. And don’t be afraid to ask questions: if your instructor’s assignments or notes confuse you, ask for clarification.

2.) Remember the Real World. In your future career, you will encounter difficult people, stressful times, and challenging situations. Even your dream job will have dull or unpleasant elements. Right now, college is your full-time position, so accept that you won’t love every class or instructor.

3.) Find Your Interest. Get excited about something in every course. Try applying something you learn in science to the world around you; consider history in light of current events. Maybe a character or text in a literature class reminds you of a person, event, or theme in your life. If nothing else, regard each class as a challenge. Tell yourself, “Yes, this isn’t my thing, but I want to prove that I can earn a good grade.”

4.) Keep Your Eyes on the Prize. Yes, it’s a cliché, but sometimes it’s the only mantra that works. If you’re in college, your goals are a degree and a career. Recognize that difficult class or professor as a small, but vital step on your journey to the life you want.

So as the British say, just get on with it. One day, your effort will be worth it.

-Dorothy A. Dahm

Procrastination: Don’t Put Off Reading this Blog Post!

According to 19th century psychologist William James, “Nothing is so fatiguing as the eternal hanging on of an uncompleted task.” A lot of things have changed in the past hundred years, but we are still plagued by procrastination. It’s part of the human condition. One of the most important – and most challenging – skills to learn is how to manage those inevitable bouts with procrastination

In order to beat procrastination, you need to face it. Acknowledge that that is what’s happening. Don’t kid yourself that because you always seem busy, you must be getting the important things done. The master procrastinators I know are always busy doing legitimate tasks. Busy-ness is the best way to mask the fact that you’re avoiding something else.

Once you’ve acknowledged your procrastination, you have to make a firm commitment to overcome it. This takes great courage and perseverance for several reasons:

1.) Like any change, it’s hard.

2.) You have to deal with your personal fears – of failure, of less than perfection, of commitment, of success. (The idea of being productive and efficient is very scary if you generally aren’t!)

3.) It won’t gain you popularity, and it might not be fun.

It’s easy to see why so many people put off dealing with procrastination. Avoiding procrastination requires a combination of attitude and technique.

Let’s start with attitude. You have to convince yourself that you can manage your behavior with regards to time. Yes, you can.

Let go of perfectionism. Conditions are rarely perfect for working, and people are rarely capable of achieving perfection in their work. Strive for personal excellence and satisfaction instead.

Appreciate deadlines: don’t fear them. The adrenaline rush caused by an approaching deadline may be exactly what you need to get those creative juices flowing!

Don’t wait for inspiration to strike. You are responsible for turning that light bulb over your head. It’s not magic, and it only happens after you’ve invested some time and energy.

Once you believe you can manage yourself through time, work on your technique:

1.) Become a list-maker and a prioritizer. Before you go to bed at night, make a list of tasks you need to accomplish the next day. Note which things are most important in terms of time or significance. Write them down so you can’t conveniently forget them or rationalize them away.

2.) Make sure your goals are realistic. Break huge, overwhelming jobs into smaller, doable chunks.

3. ) Tell the people around you what are you are planning to do. The added pressure will help you stick to your plans.

4.) Get started with something! Keep your planning and prioritizing simple, but don’t waste time debating where to start. When it’s time to work, pick something on your list and plunge in. It all needs to get done.

5.) Have patience with yourself. Once you start, give yourself time to focus on the task at hand. If it’s hard to get focused, try a different perspective or approach.

6.) Reward yourself when you’ve achieved a goal. Take breaks when you need to – but make yourself get back to work and finish things. Whenever you finish a task, cross it off your list.

7.) Pay attention to the things on your lists that never seem to get done. If they’re not worth doing, drop them from your list and forget them. If they are worth doing, acknowledge that those are the things you’re really avoiding and get help dealing with them.

If you need help dealing with your procrastination, don’t delay getting help another day! The longer you wait, the more overwhelming the looming tasks become, and the less likely you are to be able to salvage the semester – and your well-being.

-Becky Eno

Becky Eno is the Academic Counselor at Castleton University. She also teaches in the English department.

 

 

Get Ready, Get Set, Get Organized!

stress_000The last week has been a blur. You’re adapting to a new schedule – and maybe changing that schedule as you add or drop classes. Professors are inundating you with syllabi and assignments, you’re planning to meet up with friends, and you’re trying to fit homework around your job or extracurricular activities. The semester’s hardly begun, but you’re already overwhelmed.

There’s no question about it: the start of the semester can be chaotic. (Even faculty and staff may find new routines stressful.) However, choosing an organizational system – and sticking to it – can relieve tension throughout the semester and help you be a more successful student. Here are some tips to keep your academic and personal life in order all year long:

1.) Use one binder per class. You need a dedicated three-ring binder – or at least a notebook and folder – for each class you take. Even if your professor puts your notes and assignments on Moodle, you should still have a physical location where you can store handouts, drafts, and other documents. Keeping track of deadlines will be much easier if you keep all the materials for a specific class in one place. Take notes on a laptop or other device? Make sure you set up an electronic folder for each course on your schedule.

2.) Plan ahead. Buy a planner. There’s nothing like being able to see all your commitments and deadlines in one place. You can buy a planner at the Castleton Store; if you prefer an app, check out myHomework. Whether you choose a traditional planner or an electronic one, invest in one that will show you a week at a time. This will give you a sense of how you should structure your free time for the next few days.

3.) List it. Planners and planning apps show you the week at a glance. A “To Do” list lets you list your priorities for the day. For example, your “To Do” list for a given Saturday might look like this:

To Do

            -Write draft of history essay.

            -Start research for psychology paper.

            -Go to the gym.

            -Get a haircut.

            -Call Grandma and wish her a happy birthday.

“To Do” lists can be paper or electronic; choose the format that works for you. Note: you can also create “To Do” lists for specific projects. This can help you break down large assignments into smaller, more manageable tasks.

4.) Pause. When you’re juggling multiple commitments, life can get confusing. Being a full-time student is full-time work – and most students also have outside jobs, extracurricular activities, or family obligations. Occasionally, even the most organized and conscientious among us lose track of our priorities. When you find yourself stressed, overwhelmed, or unable to focus, stop whatever you’re doing and take a deep breath. Take a few more breaths, and then write down everything you have to do. Look over your list. Which items do you need to do? Which do you need to do now? Which tasks could you put off for a few more days? Are there any you could reschedule or even skip? We’re not advocating shirking responsibilities or blowing off assignments, mind you. But if you have to study for a biology test, finish a history paper, and attend a club meeting, make sure the test and paper come before the extracurricular activity. Sports, clubs, and socializing are all important, but academics should always be your first priority.

Some stress is an inevitable part of college and life in general; however, with a little planning, you can avoid the sensation of moving from one crisis to the next. Sometimes, a little structure can mean the difference between dreading your responsibilities and enjoying them.

-Dorothy A. Dahm

 

4 Reasons Why This Could Be Your Best Semester Ever

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Even if you think the college – and the whole world – has overdosed on positive thinking, there are good reasons to be optimistic about Fall 2017. Here’s why you should look forward to this semester:

1.) It’s new. Whether this is your first semester at Castleton or your final semester as an undergraduate, the start of term is a chance to start over. You will be taking new classes and probably meeting different professors. No matter what high school or past semesters were like, this is an opportunity to discard bad habits and replace them with positive ones. Cluttered folders? This semester, you’ll keep them tidy. History of procrastinating? This time, you’ll make sure you start projects early.

2.) You’ve done it before. Even if this is your first semester at college, you know what works for you. After all, you were a student for twelve years before you arrived at Castleton. You know you need to start studying long before exams. You know you need to have another pair of eyes look over your essay before you turn it in. You may be making a transition – from high school to college or from mediocre study habits to strong ones – but some of the territory will be familiar.

3.) Help is available. Lots of factors can affect your ability to succeed at college. That’s why Castleton provides different types of support. Need help with math, writing, or a particular class? The Academic Support Center (ASC) offers tutoring. ASC counselors can also answer your questions about paying for college, managing your time, and studying effectively. If you find yourself worried, anxious, or depressed, you can schedule an appointment with the Wellness Center.

4.) Surprises are just around the corner. You don’t know what this semester holds. You might find you’re better at math or public speaking than you thought you were. You might discover a passion for Latin American literature, ceramics, or molecular biology. That Soundings event you dreaded might be fascinating after all. And you might make a new friend in that general education class you have to take. The discoveries you didn’t plan are what make college – and life – exciting.

So take a deep breath, and start studying! This semester will be a busy one, but you’re going to embrace the challenges. After all, you don’t know where they’ll lead you.

-Dorothy A. Dahm

 

Finals, Summer, Then What?

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In a few days, Spring 2016 will be over. You’ll finish your finals, turn in any last papers, and go home. We hope you’ve had a good semester and wish you a relaxing summer. You deserve it!

We also hope you reflect a bit on the semester and think about the one ahead. Just as the New Year allows you to make a fresh start, a new academic year gives you a clean slate. No matter what happened this spring – a bad grade, poor decisions, a failed class, a list of failures – you can overcome it. Really!

First, consider this semester’s successes. Maybe you found that you were better at math or writing than you thought you were. Perhaps you discovered a love for film studies, Spanish, or botany. In any case, you learned something about your strengths and interests.

Second, identify what you did wrong. No, you don’t need to beat yourself up. Just acknowledge your mistakes calmly as though you were talking about someone else’s life. For example, say, “I left my papers to the last minute, so they weren’t as strong as they should have been” or “I let my social life distract me from my studies.”

Next, think about what you gained from the experience. Maybe you learned something about time management or study skills. You may have discovered something about yourself and your interests: perhaps teaching is not the career for you. Use this insight to move forward even if you’re not quite sure of your path.

Finally, realize you’re not alone. Many of your peers and professors have had low periods – and recovered from them. All of us have struggled – academically, personally, or professionally. Successful people aren’t the ones who’ve never stumbled; they’re the ones who’ve continued on anyway.

Have a wonderful summer! We’re already looking forward to seeing you in the autumn.  

-Dorothy A. Dahm

 

 

Future Selves: A New Approach to Time Management

sun-riseWhen you hear the words “time management,” what leaps to mind? The most productive person you know? Everything you have to accomplish in a given day or week? Your weekly planner?

You already know time management is necessary for academic and professional success; you may even use a planner or planning app to keep track of your commitments and deadlines. But for a few minutes, I want you to stop thinking of what you want to do, what you have to do, and how you can fit all of them into a 168-hour week. Yes, you should download – and complete – a weekly schedule. However, instead of reviewing your current responsibilities, take some time to ponder the future. So take a deep breath, relax, and let your imagination wander.

First, ask yourself who you’d like to be a week from now. I know: it’s not very far in the future. But maybe you’d like to be a more confident, active, or upbeat version of yourself. Imagine that person going about his or her life. Then consider what that student’s schedule might look like.

Second, imagine yourself five years from now. Where are you living? Are you in your first post-college job? In graduate school? What do you do in your free time? Flesh out this character you’ve created: give yourself the social life, relationships, and hobbies you long to have. Don’t edit your dreams; let them evolve without judgement.

Next, envision the person you want to be in ten years. Where are you? What are you doing for a living? What do you like to do in your spare time, and with whom do you spend it?

Finally, make a list of things that are important to you: your highest ambitions, the most crucial relationships, your most deeply held beliefs. Don’t judge or rank them – just jot them down.

Now, come back to the present.

Think about the future selves you’ve imagined. Then consider your current schedule. Is your current time management plan likely to help you become that person? What might you do now to make that dream become reality? In some cases, this means actively doing something. For example, if you are interested in public relations, you should be applying for internships in that field. In others, you may need to reevaluate the time you spend in certain activities. There’s nothing wrong, for instance, with playing videos games to unwind or have fun with friends. But if you’re spending whole days enthrall to a game instead of immersing yourself in classes, clubs, or internships, you might have a harder time landing that position in management.

While you’re at it, look at your list of priorities. Then assess whether your current schedule reflects those values. If you’re like most people, you’ll say family is important to you. But how often do you take the time to get in touch with your grandma? Maybe you want to make a difference in your community, country, or world. What are you doing about that desire?

When you do this exercise, you may find a gap between your future selves and your current schedule, between your ideals and your daily grind. That’s normal for people of all ages. Don’t be discouraged. Instead, make small changes to ensure you’re spending your time on the aspirations, people, and principles that mean the most to you. Effective time management isn’t just doing a lot with your time; it’s making sure you’re living your most fulfilling life.

-Dorothy A. Dahm