Helping Students Manage Finals Week Stress
Tips for Teachers and Classroom Resources

Don’t Back Down: Tips to Help Students Manage Schedules and Stress During Finals

By Caitrin Blake
Helping Students Manage Finals Week Stress

The end of a semester is often a very stressful time for students. Exams and final papers are often weighted more heavily, and these submissions often either make or break a grade or even a GPA.

Prevent academic implosion by giving students tools to manage finals week schedules and stress

While some amount of pressure helps students maintain their motivation, not having any stress-management methods can cause an academic implosion. Here are strategies teachers can give students to mitigate panic — and make the final grading process less painful.

Don’t panic: How to determine where you stand on final grades

Most students can determine their final grade in a class fairly easily because grades are commonly posted and calculated online. If students have questions, they should see their teachers to determine where they stand with their grade.

Once a student knows what his or her grades are and how many points are left in the semester, they can calculate the points they need to obtain to get the grade they want. This is an important step; students might realize that an ‘A’ is mathematically impossible, but they could virtually fail an exam and still get a ‘B’. While it’s never a good idea to completely blow off an exam, determining what’s possible grade-wise allows students to prioritize and determine where to allocate their study time.

A simple hack for finals: Create a study ‘budget’

After determining exam schedules and paper due dates as well as grades, students should create a study schedule that factors in a number of aspects. One great method to creating a good schedule is to consider the calendar as a budget. Students need to think about how to “budget” their days in order to study effectively while completing other tasks. Steps include:

  1. Write down deadlines for papers and exam dates on a calendar. Add in other time commitments (sports, jobs, clubs) as well.
  2. Consult your grade priority list for subjects, then determine how many hours to budget for each class. Consider over-budgeting to allow time for inevitable distractions.
  3. Once you’ve figured out how much time to use, allocate calendar time to the most important subjects first. Then work in time for lower-stakes subjects. For papers, budget multiple days for the writing process: drafting, revising and editing.
  4. While creating your calendar, allow enough time to sleep, relax and exercise. These are important components for success. If you set aside time for both studying and relaxing, it will be easier to take time for yourself — it’s already in the budget.
  5. As you work your way through finals, make adjustments to the calendar as needed. Cross off accomplishments as you finish tasks.

Maintain a brain-friendly diet and exercise routine

Many students view finals as a time to rely on junk food and unlimited sugary, caffeinated drinks for energy. However, according to the CDC, academic performance is impacted by dietary choices: students who lack nutrients like iron, calcium and folic acid tend to get lower grades. Skipping breakfast is also associated with decreased academic performance.

While junk food isn’t an issue from time to time, students should maintain a diet that includes fresh fruits and vegetables and good sources of protein and calcium while studying. For some students, this may mean prepping healthy study snacks ahead of time or budgeting time to cook nutritious meals. Students should also ensure they eat a good breakfast on exam days to help them perform their best.

Additionally, getting exercise during finals week gives students an outlet for stress and a time for reflection, which helps them process information and think through topics they’re stuck on. The CDC has also correlated better physical fitness rates with higher academic performance.

Good planning eases the strain of finals week

Success during finals results from hard work, but good planning as well. Students who understand their grade-earning potential, effectively budget their study time and practice education-friendly self care have a better chance of emerging from the school year happier and healthier.

Caitrin Blake has a BA in English and Sociology from the University of Vermont and a master’s degree in English literature from the University of Colorado Denver. She teaches composition at Arapahoe Community College.

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