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I am a senior at Florida International University, majoring in public relations, with a minor in communication skills.

Blog: Finals Week

Blog: Finals Week

Your freshman year of college is right around the corner. What do you have to do to succeed in your first year?

I am a senior at Florida International University, majoring in public re...
I am a senior at Florida International University, majoring in public relations, with a minor in communication skills.

By Enrique Torres

My name is Enrique Torres and I was born in Miami, Florida. I am a senior at Florida International University, majoring in public relations, with a minor in communication skills. In my spare time, I enjoy creating/editing graphics, writing and audio editing.

Possibly the most stressful time during your semester, apart from your first week as a freshman, is finals week. You have no idea if your classes’ finals will be easy or impossibly difficult. Nevertheless, these exams can be worth anywhere from 10 to 50% of your grade (in my case, it has usually been about 30%).

Therefore, performing poorly on final exams can be detrimental to your overall grades"informing yourself about them is key to avoiding the stress that comes with finals week.

SYLLABUS

My number one rule for anything school related is to page through your syllabi the first day of every semester. This will save you the headaches of having a disorganized mental schedule of final exams (please read my previous blog about starting your freshman year on the right foot).

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For example, some professors have, let’s say, four exams a semester, but the lowest one is dropped. If you do well in your first three exams, you might not even have to take a final! Right after your third exam, you can focus on completing remaining assignments for that class and/or studying for other finals.

Also, some classes have a cumulative final exam"that is, everything that was taught during that entire semester is “fair game” for your final. Making a note of this can help you plan out how long you need to study for before the exam date.

STUDYING

The most obvious component for passing a final exam is to study.

A key to studying the proper material is to show up to class about a week before the exam will take place. Why? A lot of professors (though not all, unfortunately) like to dedicate a few classes to reviewing for the exam.

Contrary to popular belief, professors want students to pass the exam, so they tend to narrow down the material they’ve selected to test you on. Getting these notes can surely help you compact your study guide and help you focus on specific material.

Creating a study guide while reading a textbook is, in my case, the best way to memorize and understand everything needed for an exam. Give yourself time to figure out how you best excel in certain situations and with different studying habits. 

Also, don’t hesitate to start a study group in your class"when it comes to studying, five heads are better than one. One’s knowledge of a subject can aid another person’s vague grasp.

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MATERIALS

In grade school, materials such as pencils, exam booklets, and erasers are provided for students.

However, that is not always the case for postsecondary schools.

A lot of the classes you’ll be a part of will have hundreds of students"can you imagine how stressful it’d be for a professor to individually hand out exam materials?

It is best to bring your own #2 pencil (preferably two), eraser, exam booklet and scantron, unless told otherwise. You’ll not only be prepared, but will have more time to take the exam compared to students who have to ask around the classroom for an extra pencil.

RELAX

The day before the exam, quickly review the study guide you’ve made and relax. Eat, take a shower, and go to bed early. Being well rested will help you with test-anxiety and boost your confidence.

Then, once you’ve taken the exam, don’t overwhelm yourself with doubt about your performance. What’s done is done; if you’ve followed a good study regime, you should have nothing to worry about.

What do you have to do to succeed in your first year?

Your freshman year of college is right around the corner. What do you have to do to succeed in your first year?

Plan:

If you’re in high school, you should’ve made plans to apply for certain schools, scholarships and jobs. However, let’s take this one step further"learn to plan.

Your calendar or planner will become your best friend throughout school. Why? Well, you will be taking multiple classes every semester (if you’re a full-time student, you’ll be taking at least 12 credits).

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Unlike high school, where you usually remain in a class for the better part of a year, classes are compressed into approximately four months in college. Some teachers hand out syllabi the first day of class and some post them online. Some classes are only composed of lectures and exams while others include daily readings, weekly quizzes and a final exam. In other words, your schedule will be unpredictable.

In order to avoid such information fatigue, I dedicate the first week of every semester to printing out all my syllabi and gradually adding every due date to my calendar (if it’s extra important, I’ll also add it to my phone). I prefer color coordinating by class or by type of assignment being turned in (Assignment, Quiz, Test, Reading, or Project).

Once your classes’ requirements are properly organized, make it a habit to update it as soon as you’ve completed a task. Scratch it out or erase it if possible"it’ll make you feel accomplished and let you focus on the next task at hand.

Research:

Learn to love research. You will spend many hours in front of a book or a computer, researching articles, journals, texts, videos, etc. to get valuable sources for a research paper. Don’t be discouraged by this fact"once you’ve gathered all your research, your paper will practically write itself. It does, nevertheless, require a lot of knowledge about gathering information. I’ve often used:

· Articles: Your school might provide access to special databases that will contain peer reviewed articles and journals, such as OmniFile, JSTOR and AcademicOne. Learn to use the search function in each of these databases so you’ll receive accurate results.

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· Books: Check the library’s website for books on campus that relate to your topic. If you’ve found a specific book that is either checked out ask to reserve the book. If it’s in another campus or school, request it to be sent to your campus.

Once you’ve put your information together and written your paper, make sure it is formatted correctly"some classes require MLA, APA, AP, CBE or Chicago Style. MLA and APA are the ones you’ll be using often: http://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/.

Sleep:

This one gets recommended frequently and is equally ignored. Still, sleep is crucial if you want to transition smoothly into college. Professors will not put up with students falling asleep in class"remembering, getting dismissed for the day in a four-month course can make severely impact your grade.

If you still practice poor sleeping habits due to specific situations, such as an unconventional work schedule, I recommend finding a way to change these habits a few days before an exam"you’ll need time to study efficiently and take the exam at your best capacity.

Relax:

Finally, don’t stress yourself to the point of overload. Sure, you’ll be stressed your first days of college, but that’s no reason to become disheartened at the amount of work you’ll have to do. Don’t shy away from opportunities, changes and adventure.

Don’t become nervous when you declare your major (it isn’t an eternal contract, it’s a way to help you get on some path from the start). Before every new situation, take a deep breath and relax. Remember, college is supposed to be hard work, but it’s also supposed to be rewarding.

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Paying tuition with less stress

It is easy to become discouraged about continuing your education when you see the astronomical prices of many post-secondary institutions. However, minimizing the stress that comes with paying your tuition is easy  - especially when you plan ahead. 

•    Speak to your high school counselor or advisor: It’s never too early to start researching the schools you want to attend. With the help of your counselor, gather as much information as possible to smoothly transition into college. Make a list of any questions you have, such as:

-    What schools do I want to attend?

-    What are the academic requirements for each school?

-    How much is tuition?

-    Do I qualify for application waivers?

•    Study for your SATs and ACTs: A lot of schools and scholarships require above-average scores on your SATs and ACTs. Study for them months in advance. Don’t get discouraged if you receive a low score on your first try, however. A lot of school tend to look at your highest or the average of your scores"I recommend that you take your SATs two or three times in total. High scores in these tests can also help you receive scholarships from Bright Futures. For more information about these tests visit http://sat.collegeboard.org/home and http://act.org/

•    Apply for FAFSA: FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) can provide you with the aid you need to attend the school of your choice. The aid you receive is based on several criteria such as parental income, number of family members attending college and amount of dependents living with your parents. You’ll receive an EFC (Expected Family Contribution) once your application is completed. Go to http://www.fafsa.ed.gov/ for more information.

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-    Pell Grant: Grants, based on your EFC, will be the most beneficial for you. This money does not have to be paid back.

-    Work-Study: You can apply for the Federal Work-Study Program through FAFSA. If you qualify, you can work a part-time job in your school.

-    Loans: Though most students would rather not resort to loans, they can still help you if you haven’t had success looking for aid. Nevertheless, I recommend looking for scholarships diligently. Loans have to be paid back a certain amount of years after graduation… with interest.

•    Look for scholarship opportunities in your list of schools: Some schools offer scholarships depending on the amount of credits you take every year (for example, I receive a scholarship from FIU for taking 30 credits a year). This will almost certainly require you to maintain a good GPA while being a full-time student. Also, look for major-specific scholarships available in the school’s official website. 

•    Apply for scholarships online (via scholarships.com, etc.): A lot of people are trying to help you receive the education you’d like. Look for these opportunities through online searches"a student favorite is http://www.scholarships.com/. (The best part: a lot of the scholarships require writing essays that you can reuse for other applications.)

•    Open a bank account for extra money: Hopefully, you’ll be able to have your tuition fees covered by scholarships and financial aid. If you’re lucky, you’ll have enough scholarship money left over that you’ll be able place that extra money in your pocket. Well, hopefully not your pockets"open a bank account and have your refund money wired directly there. Use this money wisely; take care of basic necessities like transportation, food and textbooks. 

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