Most Common Challenges Students Face in College

By: Cristina Kerluke, Academic Support Program Specialist

We hope you have settled into the online learning environment and have found ways to successfully navigate our current circumstances. This may mean taking it week by week, or even day by day. However, with just a few weeks of classes remaining, it’s important to know where you stand academically and to make a plan to maximize your success leading up to finals. Having an accurate picture of where you stand can impact how you may need to strategize your efforts in these last few weeks of the semester

The first step of the planning process is to review your course requirements thoroughly. Your faculty may have revised the remaining assignments and assessments because of the semester disruption. Knowing what you have left to complete and how much each requirement contributes to your final course grade will help focus your efforts. Pay special attention to extra credit opportunities that may be offered. Map out what you still need to accomplish in each course. When it comes to the end of the semester, planning ahead is critical. Make to-do lists for each week and day, keeping in mind how long each task will take to complete. Review your plan each morning to get a sense of the day (and week) ahead.

The next step to preparing for the end of the semester is to ensure you are aware of how many of your courses will have final exams and what are the exam specifics. Confirm whether the final exam format changed with the transition to remote course work. The following questions can serve as a guide:

  • When is the exam? Will the exam take place at a specific date and time, or can you take the exam at any point during a particular window of time? What online platform will you use?
  • What is the exam format? Will the questions be multiple-choice, short answer, essay, or a combination? Is it an open or closed-book exam? How much time will you have? How will you submit the exam?
  • What will be covered on the exam? Will the content be limited to the later portion of the semester, or will it be cumulative and include content from the entire semester?
  • How much does each exam contribute to your final grade? Does it carry the same weight as described in the original course syllabus, or has this changed?

Once you have determined the details, it’s time to create your “practice” plan. Even if a final exam is now online, it’s important to practice beforehand just as if you were taking the exam in the classroom. Use self-testing strategies in your exam preparation to avoid the “illusion of knowing.” Examples of self-testing include annotating a chapter of text while reading, summarizing key points from a lecture right after class, explaining concepts to others during group study meetings via Zoom, and creating mind maps to show how concepts are connected and determine what can be recalled and what still needs more review. Self-testing strategies will show you what your gaps of knowledge are and where you need to focus your additional efforts leading up to the exam. 

In a previous article from the fall semester, we discussed the importance of spaced practice for effective learning. Spaced practice is practice broken up into a number of short sessions over a longer period of time (versus cramming). Spaced practice means scheduling several practice times with the information throughout EACH week leading up to the exam, not just one long chunk of time before the exam. (25 minutes here, 40 minutes there – study in short bursts frequently.) You will forget less with each “practice” session and the repeated effort results in durable learning, learning that will last over time. Be intentional about creating a spaced practice schedule that works for you. Be sure to include breaks away from your screen, exercising or getting some fresh air if possible in order to reset and regain focus. 

Here are some additional tips to “Finish Out the Semester Strong”:

  • Form a study group via Zoom. Studying in a group means meeting regularly with others from the class to teach each other concepts, ask challenging questions, predict exam questions, and debrief an exam. Sharing and discussing different ideas and perceptions will deepen your critical thinking and understanding of the material. If you can teach the information effectively and accurately, then you know it!
  • Use academic support resources. 1) Contact your faculty to ask questions, proactively address any areas of concern, and clarify course concepts. 2) Meet with a Tutor from the Learning Commons online via Zoom to self-test for understanding, connect concepts, and improve memory. 3) Visit our COVID-19 Academic Support Resources site on our AGILE website that highlights additional academic support strategies and resources for being successful under the current conditions, including our Making the Pivot to Online Learning and Preparing for the End of the Semester handouts. 
  • Take care of YOU. As we navigate the many changes in our lives arising from the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s critical to practice self-care. Sleep, exercise, adequate nutrition and hydration, and stress management are all a part of this. Visit USM’s Important Contacts for Students and Families for additional information on support resources available to you during this time.

While the daily operations of USM have changed dramatically due to recent events, we are still here for you. You can reach us by phone at (207)780-4228, email at [email protected] or online at Please stay tuned for our next article where we will dive deeper into tips and strategies for taking online exams. 



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