Academic Tip: Finishing the Semester Strong

As the semester starts to wind down, assignments, papers, and exams start to pile up. Your student may start to feel overwhelmed. You can help them maintain their motivation and continue their positive progress by encouraging them to review the following tips.

  1. Make a schedule: As soon as your student learns that they have a test, he or she should find out when it will take place, what kind of test will be given, and what content will be covered. The Registrar’s office sets the exam schedule for finals week. Your student can identify the date and time of a final exams on the Registrar’s website. Students who have more than two exams scheduled on the same day should consult with their instructors to request rescheduling so they are not overwhelmed. Encourage your student to write exams, papers, and projects on a calendar and post it where they can see it every day. A calendar helps students identify their busy times and helps them see the passage of time, which makes it easier to avoid procrastination.
  1. Make a study plan: Now that your student knows what is due, he or she can make a study plan. For each exam, paper, and project your student should make a list of strategies he or she will use such as creating flash cards, outlining answers to essay questions, completing practice problems, or practicing presentation delivery. Students should break down their studying into pieces. They need to be specific about what they plan to do.
  1. Use self-testing: To prepare for exams, your student’s focus should be on self-testing rather than re-reading. In re-reading, students get a false sense of mastery because the material seems familiar. Instead, your student should quiz his or her memory on the material and can do this by answering the end of the chapter questions, completing additional homework problems, turning textbook headings or PowerPoint slide headings into questions, and adding questions to his or her notes based on the main ideas.
  1. Take breaks: The brain prefers learning information a little bit at a time over several days. Instead of planning mega study sessions, your student should plan to work in short, intense bursts of 25-30 minutes followed by a five-minute break. After four rounds of studying, your student can take a longer break of one hour. Breaks are important because they give the brain time to consolidate new memories. Sleep is also essential for memory formation. Research indicates that cutting back sleep for a few extra hours of studying results in poorer performance.
  1. Ask for help: Your student may be reluctant to ask others for assistance. Now is a good time to check with your student to see how he or she is doing academically and emotionally. Reassure your student that he or she is not expected to know everything and can access resources at Mason ( Friends and classmates may be able to offer advice or may be willing to participate in a study group. Encourage your student to communicate with the professor if he or she misses class, has questions about an assignment, or wants to improve his or her performance on exams. A list of tutoring resources at Mason is available by visiting the Learning Services website.

We hope that these tips will make the end of the semester more balanced and less stressful for you and your students. We wish your students success on their final exams!

Learning Services provides individual Academic Coaching to help students navigate the demands of the semester including time management, note taking, reading strategies, and exam preparation. If your student is interested in academic coaching, encourage them to schedule an appointment online at

Vicki Dominick
Associate Director for Learning Services
Counseling and Psychological Services