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Opinion

Faculty advises for semester’s end

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November 29, 2007

The end is near! Finals week begins in just three weeks, many class projects are due in the next two weeks and my guess is that something else significant is on your plate for this coming week.

As a result, it seemed appropriate that in my latest Student Voice installment I should provide some pearls of wisdom to students as they enter the final stretch of Fall 2007-08. The advice I am providing is based on both my twenty-plus years of experience as a professor and my professional work in the field of psychology. So in no particular order, here are a few tips for successfully navigating the remained of this semester.

A high RIS (rear-in-seat) ratio is essential
Perhaps the best predictor of academic success is class attendance. Thus, one of the most effective ways to help ensure your academic survival is to make sure that from today until semester’s end you occupy a chair in your classroom or stool in the lab on each and every day.

Just being there is not enough
While being in your seat is necessary for success, it is not sufficient. You must also be actively engaged in the material being presented. With this in mind I am always amused when a student who comes to class each day and then proceeds to sleep during the entire 50 minutes comes to me after receiving a poor grade on an exam and says, “I am always in class, and I just don’t get why I am not doing better.” I usually smile and say something like, “Being asleep in your chair does not actually constitute being in class.” Thus, the second tip is to pay attention and listen to what your instructor is discussing. Also, be sure to ask for clarification when something does not make sense.

Concerning technology, always expect the unexpected
When relying on technology, you should assume that just when you need it the most, it will fail. Printing out a report five minutes before it is due? Expect to run out of ink. E-mailing that report just before you head off to class? Expect the network to be down. Looking up that assignment on D2L the night before the assignment is due? Expect a message that the system is unavailable. The best way around this problem is to consider the often “unthinkable option” of actually completing the assignment at least a day or two before it is due. If you then happen to encounter a technical glitch, you will have time to respond.

Set some party priorities
All work and no play not only makes Jack a dull boy but also may make him a less effective student. When planning out your final weeks include some social activities during which you can relax, unwind and take a break from schoolwork. Attempting to go full-tilt academically for the next three weeks is mentally impossible, so be sure to schedule a night or two out or a few sessions of Halo. The key, however, is to make sure that the ratio of “me-time” with “academic-time” is tilted heavily in the academic direction.

Nap time: it does a mind and body good
One the biggest mistakes that students make as the semester ends is cutting down on their sleep to pull a series of all-nighters. It should come as no surprise that research has indicated that as the amount of sleep decreases information processing efficiency also decreases. The key is to manage your time in such a way that you are able to allow yourself as normal a sleep pattern as possible.

Can the cramming
Research on memory has demonstrated that distributed practice tends to lead to the greatest level of retention. The basic premise of this technique is that rather that trying to cram in a lot of information at one time, you should focus on smaller pieces of information over a longer period. One of the best ways to do this is to set aside some time right after class to immediately review your class notes. In addition, if you have a number of chapters to read, try and spread the reading out over the course of the next few weeks rather than trying to cram it all in at the last minute.

Please keep in mind that while following the tips listed above will not guarantee academic success, failing to consider each of the suggestions can definitely increase the odds of academic failure. Here’s wishing you the best of luck as your semester ends, and I hope to see you in class (and awake)!

Brad Caskey is dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. A 1980 UWRF alumnus, Caskey has received numerous awards including UWRF Distinguished Teacher (1997), UWRF Advisor of the Year (2004), and the Regents Award for Teaching Excellence for the UW System (2005).