Speak Your Mind: Students discuss tackling midterm season stress

Haley Fuller and Sammi Boas

Sammi Boas: From the Daily Northwestern, I’m Sammi Boas.

Haley Fuller: And I’m Haley Fuller. Welcome to “Speak Your Mind,” a bimonthly podcast dedicated to discussing mental health and self-care on Northwestern’s campus. Our goal is to facilitate a conversation about mental health that goes in-depth about what students are really experiencing and try to shatter the stigma surrounding mental health.

Sammi Boas: Midterms are well underway on Northwestern’s campus. As we head into week five, we want to talk about how midterms affect students on campus and various methods to cope with stress. We understand that these tips won’t be helpful, or even realistic, for everyone, but we hope that this episode reminds you to step back from work for even a short while and make sure you’re taking care of yourself.

Haley Fuller: We spoke to Active Minds co-president Caitlin Somerville about her experiences with midterms.

Caitlin Somerville: My name is Caitlin Somerville, I’m from Northville, Michigan and I’m a neuroscience major.

Haley Fuller: What has been your experience with midterms at Northwestern?

Caitlin Somerville: I probably had a pretty typical experience. Honestly, I forget them after I do them. There are sometimes when they’re a bunch of them in one week, and sometimes it’s more spread out so I feel like it depends on the quarter.

Haley Fuller: Is there something you wish you did differently, like approaching them or taking care of yourself?

Caitlin Somerville: I guess sometimes I know I could’ve studied harder, and then I wish I studied harder, or that one exam I’m thinking about my first year is I just freaked out some reason before and instead of studying, I went on a shopping spree at the Northwestern bookstore and talked to someone about God for an hour and then went and failed the exam but it was ultimately okay because you could drop one.

Haley Fuller: How did that end up affecting you going forward?

Caitlin Somerville: It was kind of ‘You got to move forward,’ and if you had an L, try to get yourself back on the win side, especially in a class where you have leeway to do that. I was fortunate to be in one of those math classes where the final and one of the midterms would count as more.

Haley Fuller: What would you recommend to first-years or transfers who are hitting their first cycle of midterms?

Caitlin Somerville: It’s hard to do, obviously, but try not to get overwhelmed. Try and remind yourself that it’s not the end of the world if you don’t do as well on an exam. It’s one test in a college career that’s super long and ultimately doesn’t decide your life. Just make sure that you do the best you can and definitely find friends to study with.

Sammi Boas: While Somerville had great ideas of her own, we wanted to ask how Active Minds as an organization would answer the question.

Haley Fuller: I know that Active Minds does some education. Is there anything that it would encourage people to do during this stressful time?

Caitlin Somerville: For one, try to not bottle things up and not let yourself get so stressed out. You need sleep; you need to take a break, you need to let yourself recharge or else it can not go so well. It’s going to be hard for sure, but just making sure that you’re still okay, you’re still able to do this and be an okay person at the same time.

Sammi Boas: According to a recent survey done by mentalhelp.net, finals and midterms are the most significant stressors for college students. Out of the group of over 1,000 college students, 31 percent said that finals and midterms were their biggest source of stress. 34 percent of male students said that midterms and finals were the biggest causes of stress while 28 percent of female students said midterms and finals were theirs. Mentalhelp.net also conducted a survey on college students per state mentioning “finals” and “exams” the most on Twitter. Illinois is tied with Pennsylvania in fourth place for the most exam-related tweets. These statistics show how much stress exams can cause on college campuses.

Haley Fuller: While Somerville’s neuroscience major has involved lots of exams in STEM-related classes, not everyone has the same experience. We talked to senior Marisa Sardo to understand midterms from a different perspective.

Marisa Sardo: I’m Marisa Sardo, I’m a senior, I’m in Bienen School of Music.

Sammi Boas: So to start, what has been your experience with midterms at Northwestern?

Marisa Sardo: As a senior now, and being in Bienen in general, I don’t have many midterm exams. More of the midterms I have are more project-based, so I have essays, I have composition projects. In terms of comparing it to normal studying for midterms, I would say I do about probably the same amount because between the research and the writing and the editing and whatever presentation I have to prepare, whether it’s a group project or an individual project I still have a lot to do. It doesn’t mean it’s less work because it’s not an exam; it’s still quite a bit of work. However, thankfully, I get to go more at my own pace because usually the projects you get to choose within some guidelines, which I think is really nice. For example, one of the classes that I’m taking now is a composition-based class, and we get to compose a piece as our midterm piece. We have guidelines on how to compose for it, but we get to choose what to compose, which is really nice.

Sammi Boas: Do you still feel increased stress during midterm season?

Marisa Sardo: I think the vibe of Northwestern overall is increased stress, so yes, especially because I think midterm week is notorious, or midterm weeks are notorious. Teachers tend to cram a lot of stuff during these weeks, so in general, yes. Even though I don’t have exams, I still feel a bigger amount of stress.

Sammi Boas: What have you done to manage the stress?

Marisa Sardo: I am a very organized person, so I do like to, you know, keep myself on track of things. I don’t wait until the last minute to do everything. For example, in this composition project that I’m doing we started where we had to write, I started making a list of the form I’m going to be writing for, and the rhythm, and the texture, and now I’m actually getting into the composing part of it. It’s very organized and that’s definitely helped me to destress too because I don’t feel like I’m cramming stuff or disorganized.

Sammi Boas: Having gone through freshman year and all your other years too, what would you recommend to somebody who’s dealing with midterms for the first time?

Marisa Sardo: Just make sure that you’re organized. Take diligent notes in class that you can look back on when you’re taking your own notes for studying. Get together with classmates from the class because you’re bound to not understand at least one thing in the class, I know, believe me. But then also you’re bound to have a strength in the class too, and so by getting together with a group you can feed off each other’s strengths and help improve each other’s weaknesses. And that’s really an important key for succeeding midterms.

Sammi Boas: Is there anything else you want to add in terms of advice or experience?

Marisa Sardo: Don’t over-study, either. I know lots of people who spend the night in the library too, which I don’t think is a very healthy thing. Make sure that you sleep at consistent times and actually go to sleep, make sure you have meals; these are all basic necessities that I notice that students tend to forget during these stressful times. However, it’s really important because in general, you’re going to perform a lot better on your exams and projects if you keep yourself healthy.

Sammi Boas: That’s all we have today for “Speak Your Mind.” I’m Sammi Boas,

Haley Fuller: And I’m Haley Fuller. Thanks for listening!