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Helping your student with exam stress

Quick Tips for Final Exam Stress


Mental Health Services


There is no denying that this is a stressful time of year for students.  The semester is ending, winter break plans might still be uncertain, and final exams and papers are due.  As thoughts about the upcoming winter break approach, it can be even harder to stay focused on academic work.  Unfortunately, it’s not over until that last final exam is done.

During this time of heightened stress and anxiety, self-care and skillful studying are essential.  The logic of all-nighters and caffeine diets may help in a pinch, but there are easier ways to get through it.  Here are some essential tips you may want to share with your student.


Eat healthy.  Skip the sugar and go for foods that keep your blood sugar stable – grains, fruits, veggies, proteins.  Hydrate often with water to naturally sustain focus and energy, and reduce alcohol and caffeine.

Move your body.  All those hours hunched over studying will take a toll.  Exercise has a demonstrable impact on mood, concentration, and energy level.  Even if time is limited, taking a 5-minute walk a few times each day will be beneficial.

Visualize success.  We know this is such a therapist thing to say.  But consider what happens when you contemplate worst-case scenarios – heightened anxiety and the likelihood of actualizing what you have fearfully rehearsed!  What would happen if you put that same effort into envisioning best-case scenarios – feeling confident, recalling information easily, and succeeding? 

Work smarter.  Think about this.  If you were graded on how high you could jump, what approach would you take?  Would you jump as hard and fast as you can, repeatedly, until you wear out?  Or would you strategize by resting between jumps, letting your muscles recover, making adjustments, and even consulting with others? 

Keep at it.  At this point in the semester time is at a premium.  It’s easy to feel overwhelmed with all that needs to get done.  Do yourself a favor and break large tasks into smaller, more manageable parts.  Tackle them one by one.  And remember that sometimes the return on an investment is not immediate.  Ride it out and see how small accomplishments make a big difference in the end.

Take breaks.  Reward your study efforts with some scheduled downtime.  Take 15 minutes to nap, text your friends, check Facebook, etc.  Doing this can keep you more on task when you are studying, and provides a vital respite after some hard work.

Go to sleep.  If your body feels fatigued, you need to rest.  Keeping a regular sleep schedule will support your efforts to retain information and think clearly.


As a parent, there are things you can do as well to best insure that your student feels supported and confident during this final part of the semester. 

Acknowledge reality.  Exams are, in fact, stressful.  While the temptation may be to problem-solve when your student is having a hard time, acknowledging the difficulty will more clearly convey understanding and encouragement. 

Send something.  Ship a care package with healthy food, a gift certificate for a massage, pictures from home, a trophy for a job well done, etc.  Even a simple card will do.  Tangible reminders of care will let your student know that you are on their team, rooting for them to do their best. 

Praise good effort, not just good grades.   Everyone wants to pass.  Many want to get an A.  And many do.  But regardless of the goal, a well-executed process is more likely to yield a positive outcome.  Help keep your student in top mental shape for performing well by voicing your support and pride, no strings attached.