Tips for Helping Your Student Prepare for Final Exams
The end of fall semester can be both exciting and stressful for students. Many of them are happily anticipating the winter break and the holiday season, but they first must get through the last few weeks of projects, papers and final exams. Because final exams are often cumulative or determine a large part of the course grade, final exams are stressful. For new freshmen, this is their first time to experience college-level final exams, so they often worry about how to prepare or what to expect. The following tips can help students and parents successfully navigate the end-of-semester and final exams period.
Tips for Your Students:
Planning is key: Many students think that studying for final exams begins the week before or even the week of finals, but cramming for a major exam is not a good strategy, and trying to do so for several exams at once can feel overwhelming. The best way to prepare and manage stress is to begin studying approximately a month before finals begin. The challenge for many students is building in time for “review” while simultaneously keeping up with the “new” material covered in the last few weeks of the semester. Students should therefore set aside designated time for review—by scheduling it in their planner—beginning now.
Assessing knowledge: It’s common for students to glance at their grade on a test or homework assignment, stuff it in the back of their notebook, and feel ready to move on to the next topic or chapter in their course. They may feel relieved to be “done” with difficult material, but if students struggled with material on previous tests or homework, without ever really learning it, they will struggle again on the final exam. Now is the time to carefully review old tests and other assignments to determine what they still need to master. This process will also remind students of their strengths, thus helping them build confidence while budgeting and prioritizing study time at the end of the semester.
Thinking about the “big picture”: Part of the stress students often experience during finals is feeling that they have to know everything. But this is often not the case. First, some final exams aren’t cumulative, so students should make sure they know the purpose of each exam. But even cumulative exams often require students to be able apply the main concepts, make connections, or explain relationships. Students are more likely to be asked to show that they can integrate material covered throughout the semester than to be asked about tiny details or lots of facts. It’s important that students talk to their professors to clarify what type of final exam he or she is giving and to understand each instructor’s expectations.
Timing is everything: Waiting until the week before finals to meet with a professor, TA, or tutor—when everyone is busy or even unavailable—can add to a student’s stress. This may be especially true this semester since there is only one week of classes between Thanksgiving Break and finals week. The days leading up to finals should be for reviewing and practicing, not necessarily learning new material for the first time. By beginning to study early, students leave themselves with enough time to seek help from office hours and tutoring if they need it.
Knowing grades and being realistic: It’s a good idea for students to know where they stand as they approach finals. If an “A” is within reach, devoting extra study time can pay off; if a “C “is certain, then it may make sense to prioritize preparing for other exams. A first step is to know how much weight each exam carries. The next step for students is to determine how well they are prepared and how well they think they can do on their finals. Meeting with instructors can help clarify these questions.
Remembering self-care: No one wants to be sick or run-down during final exams—especially at the holidays. It’s important to remember to make healthy eating choices, get enough sleep, and take breaks for some kind of exercise. Students should also set aside some time for fun and relaxation during the days leading up to exams. Studying is important, but students need to feel well, be alert, and manage stress in a positive way if they are to do their best.
How can parents help?
Parents naturally share some of their student’s stress during this time. As parents, you may have great advice to share, but you may feel that your student isn’t listening to you. Here are some tactics you can use to help your student:
- Be supportive - Remember that your student may be very focused on exams, and not call home or email you as often as usual. Your student may seem distracted or overly busy. When you do communicate, be positive and encouraging. Sending a card or “care package”—even if you live nearby—can be a wonderful way to show your support.
- Be a good listener - Students may just want to vent, complain, or even have a brief meltdown to let off some steam during this stressful time. They may not expect you to offer any solutions, but just want a sympathetic ear to listen or shoulder to cry on. Reminding them of past academic success may be helpful, but just listening may be the best tactic of all.
- Time management and prioritizing - You know that time management is crucial in the weeks and days leading up to finals. You may also know that your student tends to procrastinate, or thrives on routine, or becomes forgetful when stressed. You can’t manage your student’s time, but gentle questions about how they’re planning to study or strategize could be very helpful. A conversation built on questions about what’s working, as well as what’s not, can help your student reflect on habits and make necessary changes.
If you have concerns about your student’s well-being during this time, remember there are a variety of resources available on campus for your student, and encourage them to take advantage of all the support Georgia Tech has to offer. Remind them they don’t have to do it alone!
For more information on academic support, visit the Center for Academic Success at www.success.gatech.edu. Students should also consider attending one of the “Preparing for Final Exams” or “Test Anxiety” workshops offered beginning the week of November 18. The full schedule is available at success.gatech.edu/workshops.