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The Finals Stretch: Surviving the end-of-semester crush

Though Eleni Papadopoulos ’17 did well academically during her freshman year, she says she struggled, particularly around finals time. “There was this hectic feeling of, ‘What am I doing?’” she recalls.

Last fall, Papadopoulos had one of her “best semesters GPA-wise”—and her least stressful exam week. The difference: she sought help with time management from the Boston College Office of Health Promotion, a campus resource whose overarching goal, says director Elise Tofias Phillips, is to help students develop what she calls “school-life balance.”

The health promotion office’s services are among an eclectic—and growing—mix of University-sponsored programs put in place in recent years to help students sharpen their study skills and lighten their moods during finals.    

With the end of spring semester fast approaching—study days are May 6–9 and exams follow May 10–17—Parent Update asked Phillips and some of her Boston College colleagues as well as Papadopoulos and two upperclassmen to share their experiences and advice on confronting crunch time. Among their recommendations:

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1. Don’t go it alone. Just asking for help can reduce both stress and a tendency to procrastinate, says Kathleen Duggan, director of the Connors Family Learning Center. The center, which provides tutoring and writing coaching among other services, now offers students appointments with academic coaches who will meet with them to help map out a studying plan based on their exam schedules. Students can use the meetings however is most helpful, says Duggan—setting finals week priorities around raising their grade in a particular class, for instance, or putting extra focus on tests in their major. She especially recommends the service for freshmen who, she says, may still be “struggling with the transition to college.”

Students who plan to take advantage of this service should note, however, that the Connors Center closes for tutoring and coaching on May 5, the last day of classes. Students can book “as far out as six days in advance,” when more appointments are likely to be available, says Duggan.

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2. Get organized. Last fall, the Office of Health Promotion kicked off “Got Time?,” a time management education resource that features “Nail Those Exams,” an online and in-person coaching and support plan, and downloadable calendar templates to help students juggle multiple exams and paper deadlines. The office also offers “finals prep sessions” with coaches April 28 and 29.

Papadopoulos met with a coach to assess her workload and study habits shortly after the program started. She now breaks her end-of-semester workload into smaller, more manageable tasks over several days, rather than putting a lot of effort into studying for her first exam and then cramming for the rest. The approach, she says, “definitely made finals easier to handle.”

3. Maintain healthy habits. Better time management, says Phillips, also allows students to stick to healthy routines during finals. Those, in turn, can help with focus, memory, and mood. Stephanie Palencia ’16, a political science major, says that she plans her finals schedule around her need for seven to eight hours of sleep. Likewise, Papadopoulos says that keeping up with daily exercise helps her “to release stress and feel happier.”

4. Plan an outing. Brian Kouassi ’17, a political science major with a faith, peace, and justice minor, says it may sound counterintuitive, but he urges fellow students to use their first study day to get away from campus. For instance, in the spring of his freshman year, he and five friends took the T into Boston to walk around downtown, have lunch and an early dinner, and “clear our heads after finishing classes.” The time away from campus, he says, allowed him to return relaxed and ready to put in four hours of studying that evening.

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5. Seek out breaks. Palencia uses study breaks that are scheduled around campus during finals week to enjoy some downtime with friends—and takes advantage of the free coffee and snacks offered nightly at the O’Neill Library, and occasionally at the Office of the Vice President for Student Affairs, the Thea Bowman AHANA and Intercultural Center, and her residence hall.

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6. Make the most of the library: study, relax, create. Cindy Jones, course reserves and media manager at O’Neill, recommends students kick back with a title from the “Pop Collection,” a regularly updated collection of new and popular books and DVDs that are on display on a large wall just to the right of the library’s third-floor entrance. Meanwhile—in part because multiple studies have found that art therapy lowers heart rate, blood pressure, and cortisol levels—the library last fall also started loaning out adult coloring books, each with a box of 24 colored pencils and sharpener, for four hours at a time. Located behind the Circulation Main Desk at O’Neill, the books have perforated pages so students can tear out and keep their creations.

And for students who want to show their parents they’re studying and taking breaks, the circulation desks at O’Neill, the Bapst Art Library, the Theology and Ministry Library, and the Social Work Library offer Boston College library postcards (complete with paid postage) that they can mail home during finals week. Last semester, says library technology assistant Ashley Chassé, all 1,000 postcards were sent.

—Alicia Potter