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Exam Tips and Stress Management

20091209library8963Finals are looming, and this is almost always a recipe for stressed-out students.   For our final message of the fall semester, we want to offer some suggestions on how to encourage your student to manage his or her stress and be the most effective at prepping for exams.

Let’s start with stress management.   Penny Rue, Vice President for Campus Life (who has an extensive background in student life and counseling), speaks often about the importance of good nutrition, adequate sleep, and some cardiovascular exercise as preventative medicine against stress.

What do you suppose are the three things students who are stressed out are likely to neglect? [drum roll please…]

Good nutrition

Adequate sleep

Cardiovascular exercise

So the first way you can help your student set him/herself up for successful finals is to encourage good self care.  Particularly on the sleep issue, students may feel some pressure that if they aren’t keeping-up-with-the-Joneses and staying up all night studying, they aren’t doing it right.  And a steady diet of pizza and Red Bull is not going to help them either – so encourage some fresh fruit, veggies, and lean protein in their diets.  On the exercise front, even if your student does not like to jog on campus or take yoga or group exercise classes, a nice walk on campus or to Reynolda Gardens for 30 minutes every day can do wonders for the body.

Second – finding ways for meaningful relaxation is key.  Trying to relax during finals can be a challenge, especially when students everywhere seem to be frantically working.  If your student needs to get away from the fray, he or she can find a quiet place on campus to go (such as the Meditation room on the ground floor of Reynolda Hall near the Pit, or the prayer room on the 4th floor of the Benson Center).   Students might try going off campus for a massage or a ‘treat’ meal at a favorite place, or journaling to write out their stressful feelings, watching a favorite funny movie or listening to music of the season, etc.

And remember that relaxation is not the same as procrastination.  Relaxation helps students recharge their batteries.  Procrastination is deliberately delaying work they need to do.  Your students may well find if they can loosen their grip on their notion that they have to work all the time, they might find that by taking time to relax, they will bring a better, more effective self to the tasks ahead.

A student I knew very wisely said this of the student body at Wake Forest:  the sooner students can learn to give themselves permission to take an hour off for relaxation, exercise, a healthy meal, much-needed sleep, the better they will be able to understand that if they aren’t in good physical shape, they can’t be optimally prepared for their finals.   

OK, so let’s now talk test prep and exam tips.  One of college students’ biggest issues is procrastination (which also adds to the stress level).  Some people help combat procrastination with an old fashioned “to do” list.  This article by Kathryn Britt talks about procrastination and how she worked to develop healthier daily habits.  She offers this summary on how to defeat procrastination:

“1. Make to-do lists.
2. Include happy-making items. Things you want to do “if only you had the time.”  (HINT: this could be that 30 minute walk!)
3. Do two list items every day—or more if you like, but do a minimum of two.
4. Don’t skip a day — unless there’s nothing left on your to-do list!”

 There are many study strategies – and some might work for your student, others not.  Here is a sample of options:

  • Studying in groups and helping tutor each other
  • Recopying notes from lectures a second time (sometimes writing it down again helps cement it in the brain)
  • Rereading material that you highlighted the first time you read it
  • Talking with the faculty member during office hours

Each student is also going to have to find his or her best study space.  For some it will be in the residence hall, others at Starbucks or in the ZSR Library, others in academic buildings or common areas.  The trick is to find a space where the student can focus and do his or her best work.


And finally, how can you help support your student?  One way is to proactively send him/her some good wishes and love during Finals Week.  We’ve created Deacon Greetings, which will allow you to send your student an e-card wishing good luck or simply to say “Love you!”  You never know how much your message might brighten your Deac’s day.

A second way you can help is to keep your student’s stress level in perspective and try not to intervene.  You may very well get a frantic phone call that sounds to you like the world is ending.  Typically, students tend to vent their frustrations to Mom and Dad, and after they have vented them, they feel better and can go on to other things – but now you have had everything dumped on you and you feel panicked about your student.

Though it is alarming to hear a stressed out student on the other end of the phone/text/IM,  some stress is good for your student.  It can motivate him/her to action.  And when he/she gets the work done or solves the problem on his/her own, the lesson learned is that he/she is in fact a capable person.  I CAN do it!  This builds critical skills your student will need for the rest of his/her life:  problem-solving, resilience, self-confidence.

So if your student calls you and is exhibiting stress, resist the urge to soothe him/her immediately or offer solutions or ‘fix the problem’.  Instead, direct your Deac to some of the ideas above or remind him/her of the many resources available on campus (the Counseling Center, Writing Center, Math Center, Learning Assistance Center, RAs, academic advisers, Campus Ministry, etc.)