“Grade expectations”: studying for midterm exams and completing assignments amid the COVID-19 pandemic

By Olivia Montes

Lifestyle Editor

It’s that time of year again: Washington College midterm exams and assignments are right around the corner. These assignments will be conducted a bit differently because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but resources for getting them done are still available.  

Here are a few tips to how to not only better prepare yourself for acing midterm exams and similar assignments while online, but also conquer other assignments throughout the remainder of the year. 

Plan and prioritize

Before you get started, it’s a good idea to outline what it is exactly you have to get done over the remainder of the semester. Map out study time for each of your courses, which keywords or concepts you’re having trouble with, and what helpful online studying habits to adopt that help you best prepare.

According to WC Director of the Office of Academic Skills Hilary Bateman, this is an important first step. By establishing a set study plan for yourself, and arranging how much time you will spend focusing on each subject, you’re not only outlining what you want to accomplish with your plan, but also setting up the next steps towards reaching your midterm goals.

“Whether that is planning out exactly how much time you’re going to spend, making a study schedule for the week, [plan it out] — or, if you already have a study schedule, update it,” Bateman said. 

If part of that plan is to reach out to your professor, do so ahead of time; see when their office hours are and be sure to schedule an appointment right away. If you want to form a study group with your friends or peers via Zoom, send out an invite as soon as possible.

Bateman also said to be aware of what assignments are due first; know what the requirements are and how much time you must complete each one — and get to work. 

“These weeks are [getting] busier, you’ll have to spend more time, priorities are different, [so] make sure you know what’s due,” Bateman said. “A lot of times we get really worked up…anxious, and so stressed, and that takes so much mental energy away from the actual things you have to do, so making a plan and putting it down on paper can help ease some of that stress and free up some of that mental energy that will be better spent studying.” 

Allot mental health breaks for yourself 

For many students, an entire academic year spent online can not only be quite stressful, but also negatively impact mental health. 

In between studying, be sure to step away from your computer screen and take a few minutes to re-energize, whether that be doing a brief physical workout, meditating, or completing a breathing exercise.

If you want to get out of your surroundings, try changing up the scenery by safely going onto a new location on campus, in your dormitory, or even right on the campus green.

Or, if you’re still feeling overwhelmed, be sure to communicate this with your professors and talk to them about taking a mental health day. 

“[Many of us] have been staring at screens for…four-plus hours a day, which [is] straining on the eyes,” senior Lucy Ofosu-Appiah, a computer science tutor at the Quantitative Skills Center, said. “If you need to, take a mental health [break] — it’s beyond important.” 

Visit the Writing or Quantitative Skills Center 

If you find yourself having trouble understanding a course assignment, struggling to get started, or in need of some extra help, be sure to make a virtual appointment with the Writing Center or Quantitative Skills Center. 

At the Writing Center, peer writing consultants offer guidance on assignments from any area of study and at any point during the writing process as long as, according to senior and Writing Center Peer Consultant Samina Soin-Voshell, the project “has some written component involved,” from components of a First-Year Seminar to a Senior Capstone Experience. 

“Whether that is bringing in a prompt that they [students] are just stuck on and want help brainstorming, we’ll work with them on that, or if it’s a final draft, our responsibilities as tutors are to be there for the writer and help them learn how do the work,” Soin-Voshell said. 

If you’re struggling with a numerical-based course, assignment or idea, the Quantitative Skills Center can assist you in providing a better understanding of quantifiable subject matter, from topics including business, economics, and psychology. 

To schedule an appointment, visit the Writing Center or the Quantitative Skills Center page on the WC website, where you will be directed to further instructions as to what to bring or prepare for ahead of your selected time, including rubrics, pens, paper, and an idea of what you want to go over during your session. 

If you feel anxious or intimidated about going, it’s important to remember that these peer tutors are here to assist students in any way possible. 

“I would totally just tell [students] to go because there is literally no harm in going,” Ofosu-Appiah said. “Definitely just go in, make an appointment, don’t be hesitant…don’t be scared, [and] be very open-minded.” 

While it might sound intimidating, peer tutors from both centers can lend a helping hand in anything from answering any questions regarding a complicated math-related problem to being a second, friendly set of eyes on a rough draft, and provide you the next steps towards achieving your academic goals. 

“If you’re nervous, it’s okay to tell us,” Soin-Voshell said. “We want you to feel comfortable, and if you’re a little hesitant or stressed out about an assignment, we’ll also be available to talk you through it…and give you the reassurance you need because it makes for a better session if you’re comfortable.” 

Check over available resources on campus 

Aside from the Writing Center and Quantitative Skills Center, the College offers other academic resources to assist students with not only assignments for class, but also how to better strengthen important skills for approaching both current and post-college life. 

If it’s additional scholarly sources or research assistance you’re seeking, be sure to check out the WC Office of Library and Academic Technology’s Peer Information Consultants Program. Available at both the Clifton M. Miller Library and the Help Desk, PIC offers mentoring for students navigating collegiate expectations, including assisting with conducting research, collecting information, and maneuvering technology for a variety of assignments. 

If you’re looking to expand your knowledge within a particular course subject or incorporate a specific skill into your college experience, OAS also offers one-on-one Peer Tutoring and Course Mentoring, which guides students towards understanding in-depth topics within difficult classes, including biology, chemistry, and political science. 

OAS also offers students access to Success Seminars, a series of workshops designed to help as to how to strengthen a wide range of strategic skills throughout the year, from note taking to prepping for exams. Upcoming sessions via Zoom include “Rebounding from Midterm Grades” on March 29 and April 1 at 5 p.m. and “Time Management A-Z” on April 5 at 4 p.m.

OAS also offers Crash Courses on YouTube, which provides short videos designed for students to navigate through complex steps towards academic success in less than 10 minutes, with topics including, but not limited to, “Creating a Study Plan,” “Talking to Professors,” “Managing Distractions,” “Making Accommodations,” and “Stress and Sleep.” 

“Not everyone learns the same way, and it’s all about personalizing that experience for you and making it work for you,” Bateman said. 

Make virtual connections

Whether you are working from a dorm room on campus or in an at-home study space, it’s also important to advantage of those and more academic resources is important in maintaining that sense of campus community in preparation for next fall. 

“[What] we all recognize and feel right now is that we are all missing social connections, and I think that is a key element in studying,” Dr. John Boyd, director of the Writing Center at the College, said. “In other words, finding ways to be social is really important not only for our mental health, not only for our general well-being, but I think it’s really important in our studying and progress with learning.” 

According to Dr. Boyd, aside from reaching out to professors, forming a virtual study group between peers is also helpful, not only for comprehending the course material, but also allowing members to bounce ideas off one another outside the online classroom. 

“Being able to talk through about what you’re [learning] and what your ideas are is such an essential element of making progress,” Dr. Boyd said. “Just getting to talk to another person will often help produce ideas that you would not have had otherwise [and] give you insights and inspiration that you would not get if you’re sitting alone looking at a screen.” 

While this year has brought its fair share of challenges concerning remote learning, by continuing to adjust and readjust, reaching out to others, and taking breaks in between studying for yourself, you’ll have the ability to do the best you can do with each midterm assignment you come across — and that is worthy of an A+. 

Featured Photo caption: While midterms may look different this year, students can still access WC resources, such as those offered by the Office of Academic Skills, to prepare for upcoming assignments. Photo by Mark Cooley.

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