Overcoming Final Exam Stress: 4 Ways to Help College Students Succeed

As the end of the semester approaches, major student stressors like final exams, papers, and projects seem to be the main topic of conversation among classmates. Though students may be looking forward to the upcoming break, they’re often consumed with worry about final exams that can make or break their overall grade in a particular class.

But how does stress affect student success? That stress can be more detrimental to students’ academic performance than the hours (or lack thereof) spent in the library preparing.

As an instructor, administrator, or other faculty that regularly interacts with these individuals, you’ll want to be ready to support students as they navigate through the dreaded final exam anxiety.

It’s imperative that students are equipped with the necessary resources and coping strategies to help reduce final exam stress. Let’s explore some helpful ways to ensure students perform to the best of their abilities without the debilitating overwhelm during final exam week and beyond.   

1. Discuss the Importance of Time Management

Including time management strategies in your class discussions is a great way to help students manage their stress from the beginning of the semester all the way through exam week. For a college student, stressors like impending deadlines or overdue assignments can cause even more distress and anxiety on top of any existing external pressures. Having a consistent study schedule, planning ahead, and having a central place to track when all assignments are due can help students be more proactive, so they don’t have to cram at the last minute.

Encouraging students to keep an up-to-date coursework calendar or planner is a great way to facilitate the structure that students need to keep up with their workload. You can also promote the use of daily or weekly to-do lists and encourage them to prioritize short-term tasks while also preparing for long-term projects.

In addition to teaching students how to manage their academic tasks, it’s also important to emphasize the benefits of including free time in their schedule. (Yes, that often needs to be planned in too!) Be sure to show them how to incorporate breaks during the day, and explain the importance of sleep in college success and overall wellness. 

2. Promote Proper Self-Care to Reduce Student Stressors

A strong focus on academics is an essential part of college success. But students may become so fixated on their coursework that they forget about the importance of their physical, mental, and emotional well-being. Final exam stress at the end of the semester can compound this issue even further.

It’s important to note that even if a student is doing everything in their power to maintain their wellness, unavoidable stressors will still arise. School is not the only priority competing for attention in their lives. They may be facing interpersonal conflicts or other challenges that add to the pressure. Encourage students to seek support from counseling and recognize when their problems are outside of their control. Assure them that seeing a counselor is very common. In fact, 61% of college students are getting support from counseling. Professional guidance can help students be more self-aware, stay in the present moment, and recognize just how much their feelings impact their daily activities. 

3. Encourage the Use of Social and Educational Networks

Remind students of the importance of talking to close family and friends for support. It’s easy for students to isolate themselves during stressful academic times, when in fact, the opposite should be done. Maintaining strong social relationships is a great way to relieve stress and increase happiness. Even when exam week is in full swing and final exam anxiety is at an all-time high, students can still maintain these connections without falling behind on their exam prep. Promote study groups in your classes so students can hold each other accountable. These are a great way for students to learn from their peers, exchange ideas, and share study habits.

Office hours are also a valuable and often under-utilized way for students to prepare for exams in a more tailored way. Be sure to remind students of professor and teaching assistant office hours for smaller group help or individual support. Consider creating sign-ups for these opportunities and sending reminders in advance to ensure students attend. 

4. Teach How to Embrace Stress and Anxiety

It’s clear that stress can have an impact on a college student’s experience. But if you’re trying to nail down a solid answer as to how does stress affect student success, you might get a range of responses. According to Dr. Alan Schlechter, Clinical Associate Professor at NYU Langone Medical Center and U-Thrive Educational Services Co-Director of Curriculum Development, “Everyone has a different amount of stress that gives them that optimal level of performance, learning or change.” Keep in mind that while stress can be a serious challenge for some students, it might not be an indicator of crisis.

Remind students that stress and anxiety around exam time is completely normal and that it’s one of the common student stressors people experience in college. Encourage them to reflect on how stress affects them individually. Stress might even be a good thing when it motivates them to work hard and achieve their goals. Have them identify why they experience stress, what they do to cope when they feel stressed, and when they might be exhibiting not-so-helpful behaviors. The self-awareness to know when to push through and when to ask for support is a vital factor in stress management. 

Support Stress Management on Campus with U-Thrive Educational Services

Working through stress is an important life skill. Teaching students how to manage their final exam stress can set them up for healthy habits throughout college, in the workplace, and in their everyday lives. Time-management, self-care, social networks, and a healthy mindset around stress are critical tools that will enable students to persist through the student stressors they face, while also maintaining their overall wellness.

Staff and faculty on campus can be great role models for students, showing them that stress and anxiety are normal, and that stress-management is a skill that can be learned and practiced. Managing how to prioritize self-care and mental health isn’t just important during exam week. These practices can be implemented throughout the school year too.

Contact U-Thrive Educational Services to learn more about proactive ways you can help college students manage stress.

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