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Saint Mary’s administrator and counselor lay out finals studying recommendations

| Thursday, December 7, 2017

With finals week fast approaching, students are preparing for a barrage of long nights, last minute cram sessions, impulsive snacking and accidental fasting. Anxiety will settle over campus like a thick fog, turning even the most prepared students into stress-induced zombies. Even though finals season is stressful, Diane Fox, the director of the Office for Student Success at Saint Mary’s, and Heather Abbott, a counselor from the Saint Mary’s Health and Counseling Center, said there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

Abbott said stress is not only an appropriate response to finals week, but a fact of life. She said that stress — when managed correctly — can be channeled into something healthy and useful. 

“To deal effectively with stress, we need to develop an array of coping skills. Coping depends on a balance between acceptance and action, of letting go and taking control,” Abbott said in an email. “There are also a variety of daily choice techniques which one can employ in order to engage more effectively with stressors.”

Such methods, Abbott described, include time management and planning, deep breathing, self-talk, visualization of success, self-care and affirmations, a healthy balance of distraction and focus, reframing, catharsis and social support from friends and family.

“Sometimes, a good cry or a good laugh can be a simple answer to stress,” Abbott said.

Fox acknowledged the end of the semester warrants some celebration, but advised against partying on the Thursday and Friday night before finals week.

“I like to equate final exams to the Super Bowl — you don’t want to blow it at the end, get arrested and not be able to participate in the Super Bowl,” Fox said. “This is when you want to be at your utmost mental, physical and spiritual best.” 

In order to reach peak condition, Fox said, students need to reach a comfortable level of confidence before entering their final exams.

“Confidence is uppermost in importance,” Fox said. “In order to be confident, you first have to take a step backwards and believe in your preparation, and this requires time management. You don’t want to cram.”

In order to make the most of the remaining days before finals, Fox suggested students alternate study spots while preparing for each subject — a trick that narrows down the mental-recall process. She also reminded students to start each study session with a specific, reasonable goal in mind and to include some sort of practice testing within that objective. 

“You will have the satisfaction of knowing your work is done, and you will have a form of feedback. I want students to know what they know before they go into the final because that will give them confidence,” Fox said. “If you haven’t studied or if you haven’t prepared, you’re afraid of what you don’t know, and then you second guess yourself and make silly mistakes.”

Fox also stressed the importance of maintaining good eating habits in the days leading up to finals and suggested a breakfast loaded with protein on the morning of the exam, as well as a shower to wake up the senses.

“Your brain is a muscle that needs to be fed,” Fox said. “You’re doing marathon sessions with finals.”

In addition to healthy eating and adequate rest, Fox recommended relaxation in various forms of physical exercise, such as a brisk walk around campus or a short workout. Abbott also suggested regular study breaks for movement, progressive muscle relaxation and stretching. On exam day, Fox said students should bring a water bottle and take sips periodically throughout the two hours of testing. She also said they should also come equipped with trail mix — a sustaining snack — and a peppermint for a quick hit of natural energy and mental clarity.

“These strategies don’t take the place of studying, of course,” Fox said. “Methodic, careful studying will give you not only knowledge, but the confidence that you need in order to go into your final and do well.”

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