The end of a semester can be a stressful time for students, with exams and final projects looming. Travel plans also lurk in the back of their minds. And all of that now swirls in the context of a global pandemic. So, it’s reassuring to know that there are numerous resources available to help students succeed at this time of the year.
One of these key resources is the College of Charleston’s Center for Student Learning (CSL) – which is used by over 45 percent of students at CofC.
According to Lindy Coleman, director of the CSL, more than 1,400 students have used the center’s services this semester, totaling 5,221 visits. She and her colleagues – and the more than 160 student-employees – have assisted these students in a myriad of ways from tutoring to supplemental instruction to simple, one-on-one consultations.
“This has been an atypical year because of COVID,” Coleman explains, “but we’ve adapted and have been offering our services online, via Zoom. We offer assistance across most subject areas taught at the College. And CSL personnel are available, morning, afternoon and evening as well as on the weekends.”
And Page Keller, who directs the College’s Center for Excellence in Peer Education, says that having students assist other students with their studies provides a number of advantages.
“Not only do peer-tutors offer necessary academic assistance,” she says, “but as peers, they are approachable, provide immediate and meaningful feedback to the students they are helping, and can make the course content relational in a way that is different from faculty.”
Here are 10 study tips for exams from four peer-tutors with the CSL:
Hussain Bhagat, a junior biochemistry major from Columbia, South Carolina, has been a chemistry tutor in the Center for Student Learning for over a year. Bhagat says he likes doing this work because he knows he can present information in a way that’s often more relatable for students.
“At the end of the day,” he says, “I’m a student, too, so coming to me for help is like going to a friend. I can use sports analogies to make a point or I can put things in laymen’s terms pretty easily and that usually helps get the information across.”
His top two study tips include:
“First and foremost, actually set aside time to study. That’s really important, and I know it seems overly obvious, but setting up a structure is really useful, especially if this is your first semester,” he says. “You don’t want to have exam week sneak up on you and find out that you’re so worried about doing exams that you don’t actually study. You have to delegate time to do the assignments and actually put in that work and you’ll be ready for exams.”
Practice, Practice, Practice
“Practice problems can be super helpful, particularly for students in chemistry courses. As much as people hate doing these because they’re tedious and time-consuming, they really expose you to the material and help concretize the concepts,” says Bhagat. “Do them, and do them multiple times, and that will help you overcome testing anxiety. To me, working your way through practice problems is much more beneficial than simply reviewing your notes and telling yourself, ‘sure, I know this stuff.’ A lot of students have trouble with tests not because they don’t know the material, but because they don’t know how to regurgitate the material in a given period of time. And the only solution to that is to practice more before the exam.”
Emily Turner hails from Richmond, Virginia. She’s a sophomore double majoring in international studies and hospitality and tourism management. She’s also an Italian Studies minor and has been tutoring students in that language throughout the fall semester.
Her top two tips include:
“Developing a study plan for exams is really important,” she says. “When you know your goals and you set them out in manageable steps, that makes it easier for you to achieve them. For example, a friend of mine has a statistics exam coming up and she knows that if she doesn’t study one set of concepts on Monday and another set of concepts on Tuesday, etc., she won’t get through all the material before exam day. So, she’s planning ahead.”
“Always ask questions. I’m a campus tour guide with the Charleston 40 and I tell my guests that the only bad question is the one that doesn’t get asked,” says Turner. “When studying for an exam, you need to ask those questions that will inevitably come up. Even if what you ask about doesn’t end up on the test, you never know when you’ll use that knowledge, and you won’t be able to if you don’t ask about it and find out.”
Hayley D’Alessandro is a junior from Wayne, New Jersey, double majoring in studio art and biology. She’s been a supplemental instruction leader for over a year. She says she puts in 10 to 15 hours each week helping students as they progress through their courses.
Her top three study tips are:
“Group work can be really effective, so study with fellow students if you can, or even your parents. Try to teach them about what you’ve learned. If you can teach someone what you’ve learned, you’ll definitely know the material.”
Whiteboards Work Wonders
“I like using a whiteboard and putting a topic up on it,” says D’Alessandro. “Then, I’ll write everything I know about that beneath the word or phrase. I don’t refer to my notes until I’ve exhausted everything that’s in my head. This helps me identify what I need to study because it won’t be up there on the whiteboard.”
Sleep is Vital
“So many students forgo sleep the week before finals because they end up pulling all-nighters. Frankly, that just doesn’t work,” she says. “You’re not really learning when you’re cramming and you won’t perform well on exams if you’re exhausted. A good eight hours of sleep each night is ideal. You’ll feel refreshed and your brain will be ready to tackle those exams.”
Senior secondary education major Erin Niland works as a master consultant in the CSL’s Writing Lab. She’s held this role for the past five semesters and says she really enjoys it. What makes the lab special, Niland says, is that there are consultants there from all sorts of majors and minors, not just English.
“We work with students on a peer-to-peer basis, so I think it’s less intimidating than having to do this with someone who might be much older or more credentialed,” she says.
Her top study tips include:
“A lot of students headed home for Thanksgiving and will be staying there, and that makes it so important to have a designated study area,” says Niland. “Whether that’s at home at the kitchen table or at a local library or a coffee shop, it doesn’t really matter. But having a spot you’ve deliberately set up will help you get into an academic mindset and stay focused. And, if it’s somewhere that’s not in your house, that’s usually a bonus.”
“I highly recommend that students color-code their class notes, or their flash cards or whatever written material they use. This actually stimulates your brain and builds on pre-existing neural pathways. And specific colors are known to have certain properties. For instance, blue is linked to productivity and green is linked to memory. There’s a lot of research that backs this up. Ultimately, it’s a really simple thing to do and it’s a tactic that’s applicable across all academic disciplines.”
“Regarding writing, if you’re working on a final essay or paper, I recommend that you read it aloud to yourself. Doing that gives you a chance to see whether what you’re trying to convey is well articulated and whether or not your main points are communicated,” she says. “It’s also a good way to discover spelling and grammatical errors. I know it might seem awkward, so if you don’t want to hear your own voice, there are various software programs available that can read your work to you.”