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Tips for Parents: Taming College Final Exam Stress

By Dr. Geri Markel On 

Help Your College Student Survive and Thrive.

According to surveys, half of first-year college students report feeling stressed most or all of the time. Unquestionably, stress and fatigue escalate as due dates loom for final projects, papers and exams.

During the final weeks of the semester, most students are in survival mode. The stress may cause them to shut down, exaggerate the negative consequences of lower-than-expected grades, or ignore good advice. And for students with attention or learning disabilities, exam time can be especially stressful. Many students feel overwhelmed and out of control. Parents need to think of ways to decrease rather than increase the stress. They need to be the stable, supportive factor.

How Mom and Dad Can Help

As a parent, you may want to help, but not know how. Here are a few tips for providing the kind of support your children need:

  1. Keep the communications positive. Students’ schedules are busier at semester’s end when they’re involved in group projects, meetings and last-minute catch-up. Ask when, how and how often they would like you to touch base. What form of contact is preferred—text, phone or email? (Remember, students can’t use their phones when in a library or study center.) Do they want to hear from you at pre-scheduled times? Only on weekends?
  2. Lighten up the day by sending print or digital cards or cartoons.
  3. Send treats such as protein or candy bars, dried fruit, or cookies.
  4. Send gift cards for coffee shops or cafés that sell salads and other healthy food.
  5. Avoid myths such as “If students earned all As in high school, they should do the same thing in college.” In their first (and even second) year of college, many gifted students are still trying to understand that they need to study more than twice as much as before. Some students mistakenly think that based on their intellectual gifts, they will earn the same GPA as they did in high school. They don’t understand the difficulty of the tests and projects that are assigned. Some lose their confidence or are too shy to seek help.

Even with smarts, motivation and good study habits, students may struggle and need to learn Stressed out studenthow to deal with adversity. These days, college courses are fast paced and very competitive—and may require new skill-sets. Therefore, parents are advised to focus less on grades and more on the new knowledge and skill that is being acquired. Sometimes the best thing is not to talk about the consequences of grades, but to say only, “I know you’re trying your best,” or “This is a rough time, but you’ll prepare as best you can and muddle through. Next semester will be better.”

College is a journey, especially during the first years. Students need time and support to mature and gain the advanced skills required for academic success. Parents’ greatest gift is their support and an understanding of the stress students experience during the final weeks of the semester.


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