By the time we get to college, most of us have had a lot of experience with in-person instruction -- something like 13 to 14 years of it. We know how to be successful in a classroom learning environment, but what happens when we take that learning environment online?
The internet is a powerful tool, and during these difficult times it is allowing life to carry on much more normally than it might have been able to otherwise. Even so, using the internet as a learning platform poses some unique challenges. Students of any age may have some trouble adjusting to an online learning environment, but for college students, who are often dealing with complex or specialized material, this can be even more difficult.
So what’s the good news? There are plenty of tools and strategies out there to help you establish a good remote learning routine. Whether you’ve taken online classes in the past or, like countless other students across the world, this is your first real experience with remote learning, we’ve put together a list of tips and tools to help you ace your finals this year.
Keep reading to get our top 5 tips for acing finals online:
- Create the right environment for learning from home
- Create a realistic schedule for studying for finals
- Find the online study tools that work for you
- Adapt your communication skills
- Learn how to deal with stress effectively
1. Create the right environment to study from home.
Different people thrive in different learning environments. While you might not have a lot of control over the actual classroom learning environment on campus, most college students have a couple of study spots around campus they like to go to when they need to get some actual work done.
Maybe it’s a booth in the cafeteria so you can munch on brain food while you study for finals or a table in the library where you can spread out all of your notes. Maybe you like to create a cozy study environment in your dorm room.
No matter where you prefer to get your studying done, see if you can replicate that environment at home. Consider these things when setting up your home study space:
- Seating. Sitting in a chair to work is pretty standard, but is that your favorite way to work? Would you prefer sitting on the floor or in bed with a comfy backrest pillow?
- Desk. Do you like standing while you work? Sitting at a table or a counter? Maybe you don’t need a desk to study at all.
- Lighting. You’ll find spots with all sorts of lighting -- artificial light like a campus library, a spot under a window with natural light, and everything in between. Whether it means reviewing your notes under a single desk lamp or putting up the string lights from your dorm room, find what works best for you.
- Noise level. Does noise distract you, or does it help you focus? When working from home, finding a genuinely quiet environment might mean negotiating quiet hours with the other members of your household. If you need a little more noise, consider putting on some study music or finding a clip of ambient background noise on Youtube.
- Amenities. You know, the little perks that make the good spot to study on campus The Good Spot to Study. Access to outlets, snacks, coffee, office supplies, or anything else you might need.
2. Create a realistic schedule for learning and studying from home.
For many college students who find themselves learning remotely, their classes are suddenly “asynchronous,” meaning that there is no longer a set meeting time for instruction. When you combine the open-ended nature of asynchronous classes with being at home (you know, the place with your PS4, cuddly pets, smart TV, comfy non-dorm bed…) it can be easy for productivity to take a nosedive.
If you want to ace your finals when learning from home, it’s important to schedule learning and studying into your day. That doesn’t mean you have to block off 8 consecutive hours to do work -- in fact, it might be better to break your learning up into a few smaller chunks of time. MIT suggests that the most effective way to study is to work for 50 minutes and then take a 10 minute break.
3. Find the online study tools that work for you and stick with them!
There are countless online study tools out there. Whether you prefer flashcards, chatting with classmates, practice quizzes, supplemental videos, you name it -- a quick Google search should reveal dozens of options. When it comes to using online study tools effectively, the key is to find the tools that work for you and use them consistently.
Consistent use of study tools like flashcards leads to better information retention overall. And that means a better grade for you!
4. Adapt your communication skills.
Learning looks very different when you can’t walk up to your professor to chat after class. That puts extra importance on communication when you’re learning remotely. If you can connect with professors or classmates live, by all means do it! But if that’s not feasible for you, be sure to hone your electronic communication skills by following these tips:
- Check your email. When you’re learning from home checking your email is the first step to getting things done. Be sure to stay on top of your inbox so that you don’t miss any important updates.
- Learn to send effective emails. When communicating via email, it’s important to be as kind, clear, and concise as possible with what you’re struggling with. Consider including screenshots or examples when asking questions.
- Try collaborating. Explore solutions like Google Docs and Google Slides, which allow your whole team to edit simultaneously. Best of all, they’re free!
5. Find effective ways to deal with stress and take care of your mental health when learning from home during COVID-19.
We’re dealing with an unprecedented (not to mention very stressful) situation right now. As much as we might like to think we can carry on unaffected, often it is not quite that simple.
Learning how to be responsible during the COVID-19 outbreak has taken a lot of energy in itself. The pandemic has changed so much about our daily lives -- from how we learn to how we shop to how we have fun. Switching to a completely remote learning environment can be a lot even without the other stressors we’re dealing with right now.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed, try a few of these strategies to manage stress and have a successful semester from home:
- Set goals for yourself. It feels good to check things off your list, and watching your daily to-do list shrink is a great way to manage stress. Consider trying to stay organized with a dry erase board or planner.
- Have realistic expectations. With students and professors alike scrambling to learn new technologies and shift to remote learning, there are going to be some bumps in the road. You may not feel like you get as much accomplished some days. Other days might feel filled to the brim with work. It’s okay. Be kind to yourself and don’t expect yourself to do more than you can.
- Schedule time to decompress. When all you need to do to “go to class” is pick up your laptop, it can feel like you always need to be online. You don’t. Create a schedule that works for you, and be sure to break up time for class, assignments, or studying with a little time to decompress.
- Take time to connect (or disconnect). Remote learning dramatically changes the social aspect of taking college classes. Finding time to connect with friends and classmates via video chat, group message, or other means can be helpful, but that also doesn’t mean you have to be plugged in 24/7. If you need a little time to disconnect, don’t be afraid to disconnect either.
- Realize you are not alone. We’re all doing our best to get through this. If you’re stressed, you definitely aren’t the only one.
Acing your finals during COVID-19 is entirely possible -- it’s just a matter of adjusting your study habits to learn effectively from home. Wherever you’re taking your finals this year, good luck and stay safe! You’ve got this.