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Student survey: finals week causes spike in student stress

Another term has come to an end, and studying, lack of sleep, and stress have entered students’ lives once again.

In a survey given to 16 Central Oregon Community College Students,  26.7 percent said that finals week causes them to be overly stressed, unable to focus and anxious, 37.5 percent stated that they are overly stressed during finals week, but their stress level is still manageable and 13.3 percent said that their stress level is only slightly higher than normal during finals week. Another 13.3 percent of students who responded said that they become frantically stressed, and 6.7 percent said that they are stressed to the point of feeling physically ill. There were no respondents who said their stress level was any less than a six on the scale.

Overall, the majority of students (53.3 percent) responded that student resources meant to ease the strain of finals week do not help them. Only 6.7 percent of respondents said that COCC’s resources for stress management help them, while 40 percent of respondents were unsure whether or not the resources are helpful for various reasons.

“If you’re an adult on campus, you just want to get home,” said Psychology Professor Rebecca Walker-Sands in response to the lack of positive responses to student stress management resources. “It’s about priorities.”

The importance of sleep was also stressed by Walker-Sands.

“If you’re stressed, you get anxious and then you don’t sleep,” she said. “Dream sleep helps the brain process facts.” She also mentioned the lack of sleep in students who “cram” the night before a final can actually be more to your detriment than it is beneficial since the lack of dream sleep or REM (rapid eye movement) sleep affects the way the brain retains new information.

Students were asked three questions based on their normal or expected stress level during finals week. Olivia Moreau, biology major and first year student at COCC stated, “I think that there should be more study guides provided by instructors, so students are aware of what they need to know. Without study guides or other similar resources, students study all material for the course and that causes more stress than there needs to be.”

For other students the amount of courses they are taking play a large role in how high their stress levels are. Taylor Fellines, a pre-medical major and first year student also chimed in explaining that since she has a lighter workload this term, it has not been an unusual amount of stress for her.

Some students preferred to keep their survey anonymous, those anonymous responses included adding a “dead week” or “dead day” between the last week of classes and finals week to prepare, a better finals week schedule, and a better grading method so that student’s whole term of work isn’t being overshadowed by one test.

Walker-Sands also gave some insight as to what harmful amounts of stress can do to the brain.

“High levels of cortisol can kill those cells that help us retain memories in the hippocampus.” she stated. The hippocampus is the short-term memory part of the brain that ends up also retaining long-term memory, it will shrink due to the large amounts of cortisol, but those cells can grow back once cortisol levels are returned to normal. Walker-Sands also said that overly high cortisol levels can suppress your immune system, causing you to get sick more easily and at an inconvenient time.

A large part of finals week is the planning done at the beginning of the term that extends throughout the term Walker-Sands explained. She said that a lot of stress all humans feel is created by a lack of planning and procrastination and listed some coping mechanisms students can use as finals week approaches. She encouraged students to plan ahead, but that if you’re going to “cram” for a test, work in short bursts, take naps, look your notes over before your test and try to read through the test and make notes within 20 minutes of starting to give yourself a head start with what’s fresh in your mind. If you’re the type of student who does plan ahead, you should remind yourself to set time limits according to Walker-Sands.

As finals approach, remember that there are endless resources for stressed students during finals week. If stress during finals is a reoccurring event for you, remember that COCC does offer stress management classes each term.

 

McKayla Schneider

Contact: mschneider@cocc.edu

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