Gearing Up For Exams

By Paul Hagen, Dean of Students

It’s that time of year again. There’s a distinct chill in the air, the leaves have mostly fallen, Thanksgiving break is looming, and students are anxiously awaiting next week’s fall trimester finals. Finals week can be exhilarating, exhausting, and frightening all at once—both for students and parents. There is the anticipation of completing the trimester (and of getting a well-deserved break), but also apprehension about grades and class performance. Students worry about falling behind, and parents worry about their student not getting enough sleep, not meeting their full potential, and being overly stressed. And all this against the backdrop of heavy gray skies and plenty of rain.… So how do you manage finals week at home? It’s difficult to give advice, more so because each student’s and each family’s experience is unique. Nevertheless, I’ve put together a couple tips for surviving finals week that I hope you will find useful.

  • Encourage Healthy Habits. Students do better on finals (and at school in general) when they eat well, sleep well, hydrate well, and study well. Despite this fact, every year students (and sometimes their parents) seem to forget it during finals week. Instead of getting to bed early, students opt to stay up late and study. Instead of eating a healthy breakfast, they grab a donut on their way to school. The research is definitive, the tired mind is sloppy, slow, and prone to making mistakes. Staying up an extra hour (or more) to cram will actually have a negative impact. Instead, encourage your student to briefly review their notes, then to relax (with music, light reading, but not screen time) before getting to bed early. Remind your student to eat a healthy, hardy breakfast (avoid sugary foods and prioritize protein) and to hydrate throughout the day. And help them to study well. Avoid cramming, avoid distractions (social media is particularly insidious during study time), and avoid getting bogged down in the trivial. Instead, promote effective and efficient study habits. Prioritize work, review rubrics and study guides, focus on one problem, project, or class at a time. Developing and maintaining healthy habits is always worthwhile.


  • Take a Breath. Most students will face some nervousness when taking finals. Finals can be scary—anticipation for finals can be even scarier. Even the word—finals—denotes finality and brings with it a twinge of fear for many. Fear is contagious, so is stress. It is easy for us as parents to take on our kid’s emotions—to empathize so deeply with them that we feel what they feel. It is also easy for us to want to save our kids from hardship, stress, and anxiety. And while these instincts serve a role, they can also hinder student growth. So, if your student is feeling fearful, nervous, or panicked try instead to take a deep breath, center yourself, and stay calm. Know that it is going to be okay. Finals are hard but they are not fatal. Don’t feel that you have to rescue your child, it’s actually okay for them to feel whatever they are feeling. But remind them that whatever the challenges and whatever the outcome, you are there to encourage and support them. And remind them that their teachers are too.


  • Avoid Making Comparisons. It’s easy to do. Students compare test scores and GPAs. And while making comparisons can come naturally, they can also quickly become hurtful if not carefully managed. Grades can be very personal, and they should be. After all, grades are only a marker of how an individual is doing in the acquisition of skills and content in a specific area. Grades are not a measure of how an individual student stands against his/her peers. This is the reason we do not grade on a curve or rank students, it is also the reason we try so hard to provide detailed individual feedback. So, especially during finals week, encourage your student to avoid comparing their grades with classmates. And refrain from trying to determine “where” your student sits in comparison with others, or judging their performance by the work of others. Every student reacts differently to finals. For some students, a particular exam or project will be daunting, terrifying even. For others, that same exam or project will be a breeze. Where one student will struggle another will excel, where one student will feel confident another will feel uncertain. So avoid comparing your student’s experience with others as well.


  • Know When to Get Help. Sometimes the anxiety goes beyond the typical finals-week jitters. If this is the case, or if you think something more serious is going on, reach out to their Advisor or contact our School Counselor, Jake Davis.