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Posts tagged ‘finals’

How Shared Stressing Out Helps You Relax

tired students with tablet pc, books and notebooks

Misery loves company. A new study out of USC argues that stress is reduced when the experience is shared. In other words, complaining about your ridiculous deadlines, unreasonable professors, and brutal workloads with your classmates is actually a valid coping mechanism.

For the study, researchers measured cortisol (a hormone released in stressful situations) levels among participants completing a public speaking task. Participants who were allowed to discuss the task among one another in advance were notably less stressed than those in isolation.

The key was the emotional state of the person who spoke with the participant. When the emotional profiles were the same — because they were in a similar situation — stress levels decreased. That suggests there’s something more socially advanced going on than simple catharsis. Stress levels aren’t just dropping because the participants are getting the stress off their backs, they’re dropping because the participants see that someone else is stressed out too. There’s an automatic surge of social support that comes just from knowing somebody else is having a similar reaction.

So next time your professor announces that you’ll be having a final paper AND a final exam, don’t call up your parents or your boyfriend/girlfriend to complain. They’ll support you, saying, “I’m sure you’ll do just fine.”

But you’ll feel a lot better talking to that person who sits next to you in lectures, who’ll tell you, “This is impossible. We are both going to fail.” It’s just nice to know someone else feels the same.

What’s the Worst Final You’ve Ever Taken?

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Every once in awhile a final comes around that just plain kicks you in the butt, no matter how long you’ve prepared or hard you’ve studied. Here are the Bookbyte team’s worst finals experiences.

Holly

My worst final was my hardest, but not necessarily the one with the lowest grade. One of the projects I had for a Layout class was to design and produce a magazine, with each person in the class in charge of one spread. I elected to be editor of the magazine, and spent many long days in the computer lab making sure that the magazine was taken care of. We went through countless rounds of revisions, and since I was in charge, I had to be there the whole time. I’m pretty sure I had several 12+ hour days, working on it between my classes and my job. I barely remember sleeping. It was such a relief to be done with it at the end of the term!

Chris

My worst final goes back to high school. While I definitely took harder tests in college, this was the only time I gave up in the middle of taking something. It was the AP Government exam. Our teacher was close to retirement and had totally checked out. He would cut out early almost every Friday afternoon to play golf. His classes often started on the topic of government, but would drift off into college sports or unrelated life advice. Needless to say I learned almost nothing, and this was largely reflected in the answers on my test. I finally snapped when I reached a question that said: “Define the term ‘logrolling,’ in the legislative sense.” I wrote: “Logrolling is the process by which lumberjacks transport timber downstream.”

logrolling

Jesse

By far, the worst final I ever had to take was in the one and only online class I took while in college. It was my Statistics course, the last math requirement I had to take, and we simply had to have everything completed by x date by 9am. Well I decided to wait it out and take care of the other classes that I perceived to be more important and not do any studying or reading. So in the span of six hours I had to take 12 quizzes, a midterm and my final. After each quiz and test I would get my score and my cumulative grade would show so I could see my progress. I finally completed all the quizzes and the midterm at about 4:30am with four and a half hours left before the deadline. But I’d still need to ace the final in order to get an ‘A’. I decided to sleep for two hours and then just try to crank out the final. It was the epitome of cramming, procrastinating and sleep deprivation all coming to a head. I’d never felt so satisfied with getting a ‘B’ in my life!

Jaime

I took course in Conservation Biology one year, but the professor who normally taught the course wasn’t around that year. So, instead. it was covered by a professor who wasn’t too familiar with the subject. During the course, he omitted a ton of stuff from the original professor’s lesson plan. But during the final he still used the original professor’s final word-for-word. Meaning everything he omitted from the lesson plan still showed up on the final. Everyone failed it.

Doby

The worst final exam I have ever taken was for my Comparative Vertebrate Anatomy course. I was the only student in the large class who was not a biology major or pre-med (I was an English major at the time). I was way out of my element, so I had to accept that I would be at a constant disadvantage. It was bloody hard work, especially for just a damned elective, and I found myself in a grim state of mind during dead week as I faced a final exam unlike any I’ve taken before. Before me was the prospect of learning the Latin names, origins, and insertions of >80% of a cat’s muscles, and I had to demonstrate this ability by locating them with tiny pins on the lab specimen I had meticulously dissected over the last month. It seemed an impossible task. I was in the class only because I thought the evolutionary history of vertebrates was ‘cool’.

What did I do? Something out of character: I studied with a classmate. Hitherto I had never studied socially, but I was in over my head and I reluctantly agreed to host a study session with a nice girl who sat next to me in lab. I felt a weird confidence rising in me after hours of her pedagogic scoldings, and after the intense, collaborative study session I had none of the pre-exam angst that had been haunted me. The fear of abject failure had been replaced with a confidence bordering on arrogance.

How did the exam go? It went well. Very well in fact, better than many of those pre-med kids and biology majors.

It was the worst final exam I have ever taken because it was my first experience with exam-induced fear so demoralizing that it causes paralysis and extinguishes any hope of (academic) survival. But, it was the best exam I had ever taken as it taught me that, with a friend to help me along, when the scholastic shit hit the academic fan I could duck & roll and come up swinging. The caffeine helped too.

5 Ways to Procrastinate More Efficiently During Finals

Credit as always to Bill Watterson.

Credit as always to Bill Watterson.

How is doing research for a paper like procrastinating? Both existed before the internet, but now you can do them both so much faster.

Imagine you’re a college student trying to put off working on your finals in 1992. All your on-hand entertainment is restricted to physical media. Your CD of Nirvana’s Nevermind. Your VHS copy of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Your Super Nintendo with Super Mario World. Fast forward 21 years and you can stream thousands of songs instantly through Spotify, watch hundreds of movies instantly on Netflix, and buy hundreds of games instantly through iOS or Steam. It’s a procrastinator’s dream come true and greatest nightmare.

If you can watch a movie instantly instead of putting on your coat, driving to Blockbuster, finding a movie, and coming home, that means you should be able to spend less time on your movie break, right? Even if you know that’s technically true, it’s hard to force your brain to accept that logic.

Our brains will always seek out the path of least resistance, which leaves students with two options: (1) drag your brain kicking and screaming into forced productivity or (2) trick your brain into thinking it’s not working on that thing you don’t want to do. Here are a few ways to pull off option #2.

Approach your work from a new direction

Let’s say you’re working on a paper. You’ve been sitting in front of your monitor for the past two hours and all you’ve managed to do is type, delete, and retype the first sentence about 100 times. Stop what you’re doing. If you know you’re not getting anywhere, there’s no point in doing the same thing over and over again.

Instead, ask yourself new questions: How will the first paragraph after the intro begin? How do I want my paper to end? What citations am I going to use? How do you format an online article in APA style again? Don’t worry about whether or not what you write is final, just search for that point of entry. It’s always easier to work on a paper after you’ve started.

Change your surroundings

The ideas you have in your dorm room are not the same as the ideas you have in the library. When you start feeling stagnant, consider a change of scenery. This can be an effective way to slide from procrastination into increased productivity. Bring your laptop on your coffee break and set up a new work space in the cafe. Just make sure to commit at least an hour or two to the new setting, otherwise you’ll just get restless.

Unlock achievements

The video game industry has figured out that people crave feedback from the things they accomplish, however meaningless. Use the same trick on your own brain. Come up with a list of achievements for your paper. Write 500 words. Complete 5 pages. Finish the bibliography. You can do the same for studying. Memorize 50 Spanish verbs. List all the regions of the brain. Keep a checklist next to your work space and make a mark each time you “unlock” an achievement. It sounds silly, but you might be surprised at how quickly your brain is tricked into registering each achievement as a reward.

Give yourself more (yes, more) things to do

Taking finals is the academic equivalent of a marathon. You have to maintain a steady momentum if you want to make it til the end. That’s all the more reason not to burn yourself out focusing on a single, seemingly insurmountable task. Instead, make a list of around 6-10 things to do. You don’t want too few, because then it’ll be too easy to put them off. You don’t want too many, because then you’ll feel overwhelmed.

Your goal is to maintain the feeling of constantly moving forward. That’s essential to keeping your brain from rebelling. Even if one of those things is something as minor as cleaning your dorm or apartment or selling the textbooks you don’t need anymore, you’re still squeezing a little bit of productivity out of your procrastination.

Put one last thing on your list you’ll never get around to doing

I’ll admit it, this is kind of a weird one, but it’s always worked for me. Maybe there’s just some part of my lizard brain that is always happy with getting my things-to-do-list down to “good enough.”

Whenever I’m planning out the day, I always put more on then I’ll be able to do. That way, I always feel like I’m slightly behind, which, strangely enough, always helps me stay on track. It’s a way of preserving momentum from one day into the next. I’m never completely finished, but I’m always completing tasks as a way of putting off other upcoming ones.

Should All Tests Be Open Book?

Posted by Reddit user snerro

Posted by Reddit user snerro

A thread on Reddit with the above image kicked off an interesting discussion by teachers and students on the value of memorization in education. As often happens with stuff we find on Reddit, we carried the discussion back into the office, and not all of us were on the same page. Here’s what we thought:

Gavin

I’m a big promoter of practical testing. I don’t think ‘multiple guess’ tests really show anyone what you know or how well you can apply that knowledge, but mostly if you are a good test taker or not. Out in the real world you are rewarded for your ability to problem solve and find the answers, rather than knowing an answer from memory. Furthermore I am also a fan of portfolios vs. test scores to showcase one’s knowledge and achievements. I would say I strongly agree with the puffin.

Jesse

While having an open book test could encourage resourcefulness, you still have to know, roughly, where in your notes or text the answer can be found.  To me, it sounds like you’re taking the risk of spending more time on the back end, during the physical test, than on the front end by actually knowing and understanding the material. If I’m having open heart surgery do I want my surgeon to have an anatomy chart open on the table while he’s cutting me open? Or how much time does it waste when your cashier has to look up each and every code of every item you purchase? I’ll take my chances on a med student that’s been forced to memorize everything or general edu student that’s taken the time and effort to memorize their class materials over someone who hasn’t.

Justin

I’m not a fan of standardized testing as I don’t believe it accurately reflects one’s intelligence. People in the real world are allowed to use their resources, pool their knowledge with others, collaborate and problem solve to come to a conclusion. I think the meme is accurate in that memorization is not education; memorization is just one of many tools that you have. One’s score or overall intelligence shouldn’t be solely tied to that.

Holly

Textbooks can be a convoluted mess. I always thought that I would do a better job on a test if it was open book, but I spent so much time searching for answers that I would skirt the line of completing a test on time. Cramming for a test only helped me to take tests faster. Memorizing enough information to answer correctly or with an educated guess always proved successful for me, so I didn’t have a problem with it. I disagree with the advice puffin. Yes, it’s true that in real life you have an opportunity to ask someone for help. But it’s also important to have a base knowledge in place.

Chris

I don’t think this issue is as much about the merits of memorization as it is about whether or not a test is well-designed. The point of a test is to apply knowledge, sure, but writing a persuasive essay, making an educated guess, and solving for X are all different valid ways to apply knowledge. That variety is important, since each type of test exercises a different skill set. I wouldn’t ever argue that all tests should be open book, but I think they get too needlessly stressful when they’re designed in a way that tries both your ability to recall and your ability to apply, like an art history final where you need to remember exact spelling for Islamic art and artists. (This one happened to me, extra ridiculousness points because those names and terms were transliterated from Arabic anyway.)

What do you think?

Your Ultimate College Finals Playlist

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Whether it’s still the calm before the storm or you’re in full-force finals mode, you’ve probably found yourself in that awful position where you simultaneously have tons of free time and also no free time whatsoever. All the normal responsibilities of your schedule are cleared, replaced by the much more intimidating responsibilities of studying or finishing that final paper. We’ve put together a soundtrack to get you through it. It’s not exactly studying music; it’s a soundtrack to reflect the rollercoaster of emotions that finals inevitably bring about.

  • Paul Engemann – Scarface (Push It To The Limit) — That moment when you need the power of ’80s montages to get you through a long stretch of studying
  • Daft Punk – Harder Better Faster Strong — That moment when you’re working hard, well, fast, and strong, but need a little bit more of each.
  • Coldplay – Don’t Panic — That moment when you’re in desperate need for the advice in the title of this song.
  • They Might Be Giants – Why Does the Sun Shine? — That moment you realize you need a cheat sheet for Astronomy 101.
  • Miike Snow – Animal — That moment when you realize that no matter how much you have to do, your basic needs come first… you know, like eating, sleeping, and urinating.
  • Eagles of Death Metal - Now I’m a Fool — That moment you’re looking over your notes and don’t remember even writing half this stuff.
  • She & Him – This Is Not a Test — That moment when you freak out from oversleeping, then realize that it’s not even exam day.
  • Muse – Hysteria — That moment when you freak out from oversleeping, then realize that, yes, it IS exam day.
  • Wavves – Idiot — That moment you need to feel better after an impossible test makes you feel stupid. (Some NSFW lyrics.)
  • The Broken West – The Smartest Man Alive — That moment you need to celebrate after an easy test makes you feel brilliant.
  • Wu-Tang Clan – I Can’t Go To Sleep — That moment when you’re pulling an all-nighter and you need a song just as restless as you’re feeling. (Some NSFW lyrics.)
  • TV on the Radio – Caffeinated Consciousness — That moment you pop open your second Red Bull for the night.
  • The Roots (feat. John Legend) – The Fire — That moment you’ve realized too many of these suggestions are tongue-in-cheek and you really need to hear something genuinely inspiring.
  • Europe – The Final Countdown — That moment right before the final when you need a shot of transcendent cheesiness.
  • Zircon – Warhead — Post final rave!

The Five Stages of Grief Writing a Final Paper

A sad panda

Sad panda

For some, the final paper is even more dreaded than the final exam. At least with an exam, you can only do so much work in the time given. With a paper, there’s this sinister feeling that you always could have done more. So naturally, you put off thinking about it as long as you can.

I was reading the other day about the Kübler-Ross model, better known as the Five Stages of Grief. I thought I’d overlay the same ideas onto the process of writing a final paper. The comparison was uncanny.

STAGE 1 — DENIAL

“Professor ____ gave us the final today, but I’ve got like 2 and a half weeks to do it. Plenty of time.”

The student engages in a conscious or unconscious rejection of the situation. The disruption of his/her schedule is seen as an opportunity for more active forms of procrastination. His/her sense of time is distorted. The student seeks constant social interaction to avoid engaging with vague sense of impending doom. Bravo reality TV programming suddenly becomes fascinating.

STAGE 2 — ANGER

“What is this crap? 15 freaking pages of this? She barely even covered this in class.”

When the student is ready to engage with the assignment, he/she initially rejects the terms of the assignment as unreasonable. Feelings of outrage may be directed as the instructor, the institution, noisy neighbors and roommates, friends who keep sending emails and texts saying they’re going out tonight, the stupid library, stupid Internet, and stupid Microsoft Word, or perhaps even at the student’s stupid self for signing up for this stupid class in the first place.

STAGE 3 — BARGAINING

“Okay, I’ll start in the morning. One more party tonight, then I’ll get started in the morning, I promise.”

Students may attempt to bargain with themselves, e.g., offering an hour of work in exchange for an hour getting out of the dorm/apartment. They may also attempt to appease a higher power, sending emails to the instructor testing  the flexibility of the page count or appealing for an extension.

STAGE 4 — DEPRESSION

“I can’t do this. This is impossible. What is wrong with me? Why did I wait until today. Guhhh…”

The student becomes silent and stares blankly at his/her monitor. Posture is slumped. Head may be flat against desk or keyboard. In the earlier stages, comments may be left on social media networks looking for sympathetic responses. In the later stages, acts of procrastination will no longer feature any elements of fun. The blank Word document will be opened and stared at for an indeterminate period of time.

STAGE 5 — ACCEPTANCE

“I haven’t slept in 36 hours. I’ve eaten three consecutive meals of Kraft mac n’ cheese and Dr. Pepper. I have no idea what I wrote. But it doesn’t matter. It’s done.”

After realizing he/she doesn’t even have the time to be depressed anymore, the student begins the assignment. Without any energy to devote toward emotional reactions anymore, the student pours out a series of stream-of-consciousness thoughts onto his/her keyboard. Stray glances at the clock only confirm that there isn’t time to look at the clock. Upon completion and submission of the assignment, the student receives an inexplicable surge of energy, later followed by an exhausted crash. Sometimes this happen in reverse.

100 Things to Not Do During Finals Week

The most sinister thing about finals week is the way it tempts you into thinking you have more free time. There’s a voice in the back of your head that says, “Yeah! No classes!” That voice is very hard to shut up when your head is buried in your textbook or in front of your laptop re-reading your final paper for the 100th time.

If you find yourself fighting with your brain about how to spend your study time, consult this list. While definitely not comprehensive, you can be sure that if your brain is telling you to do something on this list, you should definitely not do it.

  1. Thoroughly clean your dorm or apartment.
  2. Fix all the lingering feng shui problems with your dorm or apartment.dorm-room-feng-shui
  3. Fixing the feng shui problems with the campus library (until they throw you out).
  4. Fix that desk drawer that keeps sticking.
  5. Shop around Craigslist for a better desk.
  6. Learn how to build a desk.
  7. Build a desk.
  8. Accept that practice makes perfect, throw away your first attempt at building a desk, and build a second, better one.
  9. Laundry, beyond the essentials. Your dirty hoodie can stay dirty a bit longer.
  10. Manually hitting refresh on your inbox. If you find yourself doing it manually, it’s because you’re putting off something you should be doing instead.
  11. Multitask studying. It’s bad for your memory.
  12. Think about what the state of the economy means for your job search. (more…)
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