Southeast offers help for students preparing for finals

Monday, December 10, 2001

Instead of studying for the five final exams he faces this week, freshman Will Montgomery sat on the steps at Academic Hall Friday afternoon playing his guitar. His plan is to cram for the tests. The historic preservation major wryly says he responds best to pressure.

"The closer it gets, the more motivated I am."

With some professors basing as much as half a student's grade on the final exam, finals week can be trying for college students. But cramming doesn't work, Heather Brooks says.

Brooks directs the tutoring program at the Southeast's Learning Enrichment Center, sponsor of Study Fest Fall 2001. Wednesday night, the center distributed survival kits containing candy, Rice Krispies treats, pencils, pens, notepads and bookmarks inscribed with time management tips.

Sunday night was the first of four straight evenings of tutoring at four locations around the campus -- the University Center, Kent Library, Towers and Cheney Hall. At least two tutors from the center will be available at each site from 7-10 each night.

"Mainly we'll be helping with last-minute things they want to get down," Brooks said.

Test-taking skills

The tutors are students who have made an A or B in the class they are tutoring. They also have been trained to help students with studying skills and test-taking skills.

The test-taking skills include:

Making sure to read the directions before taking a test.

Getting plenty of sleep before the test.

Not getting to the test too early. "If they hear other students talking about what they studied and they haven't studied the same things, they start panicking," Brooks says. "Trust your gut. You did the best you could."

The tutors also have relaxation tips. "Usually they are very anxious and very scared," Brooks said of the students who come in for last-minute tutoring.

Tutors tell them to remember to breathe deeply and to give themselves pep talks. Telling yourself "I studied and I know the material" can help, she says.

The Learning Enrichment Center discourages cramming.

That's because it takes about 24 hours for information to get from short-term to long-term memory. Cramming so overloads the short-term memory that the information never gets processed, Brooks said. "It never gets to long term. It's pointless."

Students do need relief from the stress of finals, and other campus organizations will provide them. The Student Activities Council is sponsoring a breakfast at 10 p.m. at Towers Cafeteria and the University Center to provide a nutritional break for tonight's study session.

A comedian will entertain at the University Center.

Other students encountered Friday on the Southeast campus were calm about the upcoming finals for other reasons. Freshman Brandi Davis of St. Louis expects intermediate algebra to present her stiffest test this week, but she isn't worried. She started studying for her five finals the week before. She studies during the day when she's fresh and relaxes at night. She never crams for a test.

"I don't remember anything when I cram," she says.

Breaking it down

In the past, Judy Dunker of Ste. Genevieve, Mo., tutored many panicky students through the Learning Enrichment Center. "They'd come in the day before the test and not know anything," she said.

The junior accounting major says the tutors can make studying for a test easier by breaking down the subject into small parts and going over it slowly with the student.

Dr. Ann Porter Gifford, an associate professor of elementary, early and special education, doesn't count the final test in her courses any more than other tests during the semester. She requires students to outline each chapter as the class progresses gives only long essay tests.

Finals that require a student to recapitulate all that has been learned during the semester reflect a national trend to quantify learning through test scores, she says. "For many people it seems to be a validation that yes, you do understand that."

She thinks a final blockbuster test puts too much stress on students and accomplishes little. "If you really want a student to learn, there are many ways to do it other than to quote a test," she says.

Her husband, Dr. Robert Gifford, had 19 finals to take one semester while a student at the University of Kansas. Partly in reaction, he says, he now gives his students in the Department of Music a grade every time the class meets. "I try not to put things at the end of the semester," he says. "The students are all under pressure."

To prepare for finals, Brooks recommends students simply review or practice what they already know.

Panicky students often show up at the Learning Enrichment Center just before finals. Cramming can make them more panicky, she said.

"We tell them to do as much as they can, but they can't expect a miracle. If they haven't been able to do it all semester long, chances are they won't do it for a test."

sblackwell@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 182

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