Mason Family Flash

Supporting your student through final exams

Students studying in Fairfax library
As the spring semester wraps up, students will be faced with greater demands in their classes, including final exams. Helping your student stay on top of their assignments can reduce stress, decrease the likelihood of cramming before final exams, and avoid procrastination. Below are some general tips to share with your student to help make the weeks leading up to final exams less overwhelming:

  1. Know when and where the exam will be given. The final exam schedule is separated into groupings based on the days and times of all Mason classes. Sometimes the final exam will be held at a different time than the regular class or in a different room on campus. If the course syllabus doesn’t list the specifics regarding the final exam, encourage your student to check the Registrar’s final exam schedule and contact their professor for full details.
  2. Plan study time.
 Students can benefit from allotting study time in their planner or daily calendar.Programming study reminders into a phone or other mobile device can help students remember to stick with their plans. The plan should be specific. Rather than just listing “Study ACCT,” the plan should include “Complete 10 practice questions from chapter 5 of ACCT at 3pm on Wednesday in the library.” If you say what you are going to do, when you are going to do it, and where you are going to do it, you are eight times more likely to follow through with the plan.
  3. Study multiple subjects.
 Encourage your student to mix it up by not studying one subject for hours at a time. Most people can focus on one subject for about 45 minutes to an hour at one sitting. Cramming or trying to study one subject for an entire day can cause cognitive fatigue and lead to poor long-term retention of key concepts. Keeping a Worry Pad nearby where students can jot distracting thoughts or tasks to complete can help them focus on the task at hand.
  4. Remember rewards.
 Students should take a 5-minute break after every 25 minutes of studying and then a 60 minute break after 2 hours. These breaks are necessary for memory consolidation to take place. Some students find it helpful to have list of “rewards” or brief, positive activities that can be accomplished in around 5 minutes, such as getting a snack or taking a walk. They can then give themselves a larger reward at the end of the day, such as planning evening activities with a sibling or friend, going to the gym, or watching a movie.
  5. Practice healthy eating, exercise, and sleeping habits.
 Encourage your student to incorporate balance and moderation into their lifestyle by modeling healthy personal habits such as eating nutritious meals and going to bed at a reasonable hour each night. Moderate exercise helps to alleviate stress and increases blood flow to the brain which helps with learning and memory.
  6. Don’t depend on study groups. It is important for students to know all the content, not just what they are responsible for in the group. Study groups can be an efficient way to study a great deal of content at once or fill in gaps in knowledge, but ultimately students will be tested individually on all course content.
  7. Study what is important.
 Use the syllabus, lecture notes, and previous tests or quizzes as guides. At this point in the semester students should have received several grades in each course and will have a good idea regarding professor expectations on assignments. When in doubt, encourage your student to contact classmates or the professor directly.
  8. Self-test.
 Self-testing is one of the best ways to learn and practice course material. It provides an accurate assessment of the person’s recall and understanding, unlike re-reading which is time consuming and gives a false sense of mastery because the material “looks familiar.” Students can answer chapter review questions, complete practice problems (without the example problem), or answer study guide questions. They can also create their own practice tests using textbook chapter headings, subheadings, and key terms.
  9. Study the most recent material first and work back through the course.
 This study technique is particularly useful for cumulative exams. Alternately, students can choose to start with subjects that are most difficult and save the easier portions for last, when energy levels might be low.
  10. Relax before the test.
 It is important to get a good night’s rest before an exam. Pulling an all-nighter will result in trouble with concentration poorer performance during the test. Students should use the time immediately before a test to rest and visualize themselves doing well (this is especially useful for exam anxiety). Ten minutes before the exam, students should write down everything that is worrying them to help clear their minds. Strategies such as deep breathing, meditation, or mindfulness can be effective tools to lower anxiety.

Learning Services provides a full range of free academic success workshops as well as individual academic coaching to help students navigate the demands of the semester. Topics range from time management and college reading strategies to sessions devoted entirely to preparing for final exams. Encourage your student to register online at

Vicki Dominick
Associate Director for Learning Services
Counseling & Psychological Services