Tips for Supporting Your Student Through Final Exams

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 his or her 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 his or her professor for full details.
  1. 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 devices can help students remember to stick with their plans. Timers can also be helpful – for example, the visual countdown of having an hour to study one subject can seem less daunting than simply having an hour blocked off in a planner. Planning also includes location!  Make sure that students have a quiet and comfortable place to study (not in bed!).
  1. 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. Including a “notes” column can be helpful if your student needs to take a break ahead of schedule or wants to resume studying where he or she left off from an earlier study period.
  1. Remember rewards.
Encourage your student to take a 10-minute break for every 40 minutes of studying. Some students find it helpful to have list of “rewards” or brief, positive activities that can be accomplished in around 10 minutes, such as checking Facebook, taking the dog for a walk, planning evening activities with a sibling, etc.
  1. Practice healthy eating and sleeping habits.
Encourage your student to incorporate balance and moderation into his or her lifestyle by modeling healthy personal habits such as eating nutritious meals and going to bed at a reasonable hour each night.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. Self-test.
Self-testing is one of the best ways to learn and practice course material. Encourage your student to use chapter review questions from textbooks or create practice tests using text headings, subheadings, and key terms. 
  1. 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.
  1. Relax for the half hour before the test.
Encourage your student not to cram! Students should use the time immediately before a test to rest and visualize themselves doing well (this is especially useful for exam anxiety). Strategies such as meditation or mindfulness can be effective tools to lower anxiety.

Learning Services provides a full range of free workshops 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