When I first came to Carolina, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to major in, but I knew I was pre-pharmacy and so I signed up for CHEM 101 my first semester, along with other courses that piqued my interest. After a few bumps in the road and many nights of doubt, I finally settled on a Chemistry B.S. as my degree and started my planning. As I begin my final semester of undergrad, here are some of the most valuable strategies I’ve learned for how to manage science and math courses at UNC, and perhaps beyond.
How I Write and Learn
Coming to UNC, I thought that I had a relatively good grasp on Spanish, having taken Spanish classes for 5 years from 6th grade to 10th grade. Since it had been two years since I had taken Spanish, I decided to enroll in Spanish 105 for my first semester thinking it would be muy fácil (very easy). To my surprise, very little English was spoken throughout the entire semester. So not only did I have to switch my STEM-centered brain to grasping grammar concepts but I had to adapt to directly understanding words in Spanish instead of translating to English in my head. This was a challenge for me but along the way I picked up some handy study habits that helped me to succeed.
Every summer, I struggle to find a routine that works for me. I feel like every day is unproductive because I don’t have a set schedule like I do in the fall or spring. However, I had a lot to do this summer and I knew that, to be successful, I needed a new approach. I looked up some apps and decided to download Routinery, a free app that helped me follow my schedule and accomplish my goals.
In the Spring 2020 semester, two weeks of online school sounded incomprehensible, and now I have completed over a year of online classes. I had my fair share of positive and negative experiences that came along with online class. But, as I look forward to the prospective in-person classes next year, here are some of the lessons I’ll be taking with me into the future.
The one year mark of the pandemic has come and gone, and I’m not sure exactly when or if things will go back to “normal.” However, I do know that I have adapted somewhat to remote school and work. Even though technology governs much of our lives right now, I have found ways I can still use it for good – especially when it comes to physical activity.
Throughout this past year, I have found that my optimism and overall motivation has decreased significantly, as school seems trivial compared to the profound challenges currently facing the world. My future seems bleak amidst the labor crisis surrounding employment opportunities as well as my inability to connect with others. I first noticed this shift in my mental health and mindset when completing a paper for a policy class. I found myself asking questions like, “Why is this little assignment even important when the world is facing such great challenges and hurting so much?” or “Will this paper even mean anything?” These largely negative existential questions made it difficult to write, but as I worked, I developed tactics to address these questions and the feelings behind them.
After almost a year of remote learning, I finally felt ready to tackle my online classes when the spring semester started. But while I was getting things done in synchronous classes, I was ignoring one of them altogether: Biological Chemistry. Since the course was asynchronous and didn’t have any early deadlines, I prioritized doing assignments for my other classes, while Biological Chemistry went on the back burner.
Sometimes it feels much easier to just ignore academic duties when I feel like something will become overwhelming. I realized very quickly that staying focused while attending a Zoom call made things even more difficult than I anticipated since I could distract myself with things like Netflix or online shopping. To nobody’s surprise, this habit was not allowing me to fully understand the content of my courses, and I was often left scrambling to catch up.
Since my freshman year of college, one thing I have noticed about myself is that I tend to get stressed the day before and the day of an exam. This would often lead to me performing beneath my potential. It ended up being a never-ending cycle. Slowly, throughout my years of college, I have developed small coping methods that have worked for me and might work for you as well!
When I think back on how my study habits have evolved over my time at UNC, there is one key change that had a dramatic effect on how I prepare for exams. During my first semester, I adopted the strategy of reading textbook chapters, notes, and lecture slides over and over again in hopes that somehow this would magically deposit information into my brain. I also did practice problems and practice exams, but I dedicated a large chunk of time to this strategy of obsessively rereading material. It didn’t take very long for me to realize that once the test was put in front of me, almost all of the information that I thought I had retained went straight out the window. I knew that I needed some way to supplement my approach of doing practice problems with a strategy to retain important concepts and information as well.