Exams are never a fun time for anyone. Whether they are midterms or finals, it can be difficult to stay relaxed. According to a study performed by MentalHelp in 2016, 89 percent of college students were stressed at least two to four times during the semester. Out of this 89 percent, 31 percent said that finals and exams were the leading cause. If mental strain goes unchecked, it can have a serious effect of personal well-being as well as academic performance.
There are numerous factors that make an exam stressful. Exams can be worth such a large portion of a student’s grade, ranging from 20 percent to 40 percent. The thought of failing an exam worth this much can be very disquieting. When the exam takes place can also be a taxing factor, such as the time of the exam or even when it coincides with other exams. For example, it can be very hard on a student to take a final at 8 a.m. or having two exams scheduled back to back. There is also the way that the professor might teach. Each professor has a different way of teaching the class, and some students may prefer one way over another. However, the biggest factor of all may simply be the material itself. The amount of information that needs to be memorized or the difficulty of the material can be overwhelming. This is why some students pull all-nighters and try to memorize as much as possible in a short amount of time. So how can students make sure they are prepared for exams?
There are many methods to make sure a student is properly prepared for an exam. There is always the option of pulling all-nighters before an exam, but that is likely to cause a lot of exhaustion.
“My preparation for exams is usually light studying throughout the week before the exam then as the date gets closer to increase the amount of studying,” said Shane Calla, a sophomore.
It is a good idea to spread studying over the course of a long period of time, maybe about a week to a few days before the exam. Looking at notes, slides, or previous work leading up to the exam date is a good way to study stress-free. Depending on the professor, there is also the option of attending review classes or visiting them during office hours to ask any questions about the material.
“Students need to learn how to use the professor as a resource to help the student understand the material,” says Dr. Whitley Kaufman, a professor in the philosophy department. If a student is really stuck on the material, they can utilize the many tutors on campus to help them understand. However, knowing the material is not always enough to be prepared for an exam.
There may be some form of mental preparation that has to be performed to help relieve stress and anxiety before an exam. People have many ways of relieving stress, but a common one is simply listening to music.
“I usually listen to music to calm myself down, but nothing too intense,” said Lucas Stanford, a UMass Lowell sophomore. “If that doesn’t work, I just play it louder.” Other ways to help could be some form of meditation or deep relaxation, just as a way to clear any anxiety from the mind. Of course, these may not always work. If someone really needs help, the Wellness Center is always available. The Wellness Center provides counseling services to students and is a great resource to help relieve anxiety.
With all of this in mind, is there any more that can be done to help students be prepared for exams? Some students do have preferences to help them study the material. One suggestion was for professors to provide study guides or past exams to help them expect what is going to be on the test. Sometimes, even when told what to study, it is difficult to tell what exactly is going to be on the exam so it nice for many students to narrow down what they need to look over. Another suggestion is the use of a “cheat sheet” or the use of an open book. This may not work for some classes, but for mathematics and science classes it could be useful. A sheet with formulas and equations does not necessarily make the exam easier, it just makes it so there is less to memorize and focus more on prioritizing on putting them to practice.
“Exams should be more about competency than memorization,” UMass Lowell sophomore Noah Canto says.
The anxiety caused by exams may not be fixed for everyone. However proper studying and mental preparation could alleviate that stress. If that does not work, students should try talking to their professors. They know what to expect on the exam and will generally try to help students further understand the material. But at the end of the day, everyone learns differently, so students need to find what works best for them.