MU experts give suggestions to help students focus while studying for online finals

Creating a schedule or study plan, listening to white noise and using MU’s study resources are a few ways to help students stay focused while reviewing for final exams.

After MU announced classes would be moving online after Thanksgiving recess, students were faced with a choice: finish the semester from their dorms and apartments in Columbia, or work from home, where some struggle amid distractions from siblings and manage poor internet access.

For many students, like sophomore Sophie Kennedy, staying on campus was the only option to be able to work and study effectively. Kennedy will be staying in her single dorm to study for finals while working two jobs for MU Residential Life and Scrubs and Beyond. She said she struggled to study at her home in Illinois last spring while living with her three siblings.

“It's a very chaotic household,” Kennedy said. “I would say I'm a pretty studious person for the most part, but I also learn well in person. Going online, and also being a state away, made it so much harder to do everything.”

Students may struggle with a lack of high-speed internet or no access to the internet at home. They may lack an appropriate workspace or be forced to manage many distractions as they try to accommodate the schedules of others in their household.

Barb Tucker, a resource specialist at ParentLink through the MU College of Education, said it’s important to set goals each day on a calendar and create a schedule when taking classes from home. However, she says students should be patient with themselves and allow themselves to adjust to changing circumstances.

“You have to give yourself grace,” Tucker said. “You have to allow yourself some flexibility because these are unprecedented times and we're surviving a pandemic.”

Being away from the campus environment can also cause a lack of focus, which can lead to missing assignments and lower grades.

Junior Nicole Smith likes to work on campus during a normal year, but works at a small desk in her bedroom at her apartment now. She said she has trouble being productive at working from home and said it’s easier to get distracted by other tasks and errands, like going to the gym and getting groceries, instead of completing schoolwork.

“I hate learning in my apartment,” Smith said. “I try to avoid it at all costs. I just have a desk in a corner and when I'm in my room I want to sleep. I don't want to do my work.”

For students who struggle to complete large projects virtually, Tucker suggests spending 50 minutes on each task and then giving yourself a 10-minute break. For smaller tasks like memorization, she recommends committing to just five minutes of work.

“As someone who procrastinates because tasks seem overwhelming, that was very good news,” Tucker said. “I can just do five minutes, and usually then I will continue on. Five minutes can be of great value. It can be very helpful for memorization and identification.”

If procrastination is leading to a lack of focus, Tucker said aromatherapy or listening to white noise can help students stay productive and eliminate other interruptions from roommates or family.

“[White noise] keeps things on an even keel so single noises don't distract you,” Tucker said. “It also works if there is chaos going on. It helps you to focus on the white noise so you're less aware of the chaos of the fun that might be going on and allows you to focus on the work that you're trying to do.”

For students who struggle to complete their work on time, the MU Learning Center offers Study Plan Consulting, where consultants help students create a strategy to complete major projects or study for an exam. Yve Solbrekken, coordinator for the Science Tutoring program and for the Study Plan Consultant program, said the program has seen a large uptick in students self-referring to the program to get support from others.

“The Study Plan Consultant talks with the students a lot about how they study, what they are struggling with and if they could wave a magic wand and change something about how they study, what would that be,” Solbrekken said.

Although classes are over, Tucker said another key to succeeding during finals week is simply showing up to class and review sessions. The virtual format for classes could be an advantage for students who would not have otherwise shown up for an in-person class.

“Your attendance may actually be better if it's virtual,” Tucker said. “That is something I would encourage students to do — just show up. Especially this last week, you'll have a lot of reviews. Just show up. Just log in. Listen to what's going on. That review time can be really helpful.”

Solbrekken emphasized the social aspect to studying and learning a key point in her recommendations to students who are struggling with learning in isolated environments, especially for those students who are more isolated than ever now.

“We are not an isolated species,” Solbrekken said. “We don’t work individually all the time.”

She suggests truly engaging and interacting with the students in breakout rooms in class and encourages students to go to class with their cameras on to humanize the virtual class experience.

This way, Solbrekken hopes that the students who feel they’re alone in their studies and stuck in the same space can still have an interactive college experience and hopefully excel in their classes.

“Human beings need people,” Solbrekken said. “We need to interact with them. We need to see them and feel them and know that they are there.”

_Edited_BySophie Chappell |

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