Focus on Healthy Habits Ahead of Final Exams

GW experts offer five tips on the best ways to prepare for exams and what university resources are available to students.

December 04, 2017

Final exams are the last hurdle standing between George Washington University students and a lengthy winter break, but they can bring on added stress at the end of a semester of hard work.

GW Today spoke with Gillian Berry, associate director of Mental Health Services at the Colonial Health Center, and Tracy Arwari, director of Student Support and Family Engagement within the Division of Student Affairs, about the best ways students can prepare for final exams. They offered tips on the best study habits, self-care and how individuals can best position themselves for success.

Tip #1: Stop and breathe
It’s important to avoid getting caught up in the stress and anxiety that can surround taking a final exam in the weeks leading up to the end of the semester. Students can do this by focusing on what they have learned and the difficult coursework they completed in the past.

“Students can draw strength from what they have accomplished rather than be intimidated by what they have yet to complete.  They should remember that they have the skills necessary to navigate whatever is ahead of them,” Dr. Berry said.

Tip #2: Meet with professors, teaching assistants
Whether students have been doing well in their classes or have faced obstacles, they should take advantage of opportunities to meet with professors, teaching assistants and academic advisers during office hours ahead of their final exams.

These end-of-semester meetings allow students to ask any lingering questions about their standing in a course or material that will be covered on the exam.

“There is still time for students to reach out to their faculty to address some of the concerns that might be on their mind as they begin to think about final exams.  They can then work with their faculty or TAs to see which academic options might be available to position them to be as successful as possible,” Dr. Arwari said.

Students should also reach out to their faculty or academic adviser if they believe they need to change their schedule for the spring semester. Resident advisers are also a useful guide for support who can connect on-campus residents with university resources as needed.

Tip #3: Pace yourself
Students should build in time to have fun leading up to final exams. They should give themselves time to get dinner with friends, see a movie, visit a museum or participate in a university program. This will provide students with a balance that gives their brains a rest and will help them focus better during the time they set aside for studying.

“Learning is a cumulative and comprehensive process – and trying to learn an entire course in the days leading up to the exam isn’t a sustainable or efficient practice,” Dr. Arwari said. “If all you do is study for five days straight, you’re going to get burnt out and not retain the information in a meaningful way.”

Tip #4: Prioritize what you need to be successful
Every student is different so it’s important that students find out what works for them. If a student needs seven or eight hours of sleep the night before a morning exam, they should make sure they put themselves in a position to get it. Don’t follow a roommate or friend’s schedule if that isn’t what works for you, Dr. Berry said.

Students should take regular breaks when they need them, eat well, get enough sleep and do activities that help with stress management like exercise, journaling or cooking.

“There is no one size fits all,” she said. “It’s about absolutely being aware of what is right for you.”

Tip #5: Take advantage of university programming
GW has many resources available for students during final exams and will be hosting events across the university:

  • The Office of Student Support and Family Engagement is hosting a workshop about mindfulness and stress management on Dec. 6 at 7 p.m. in Marvin Center 309.
  • Eat free breakfast and get study tips at Breakfast Breaks on Monday, Dec. 11 from 9 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. and Tuesday 9 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. at Gelman Library.
  • Enjoy Midnight Breakfast on Monday, Dec. 11 from 10:30 p.m. to 12:30 a.m. in District House as a way to fuel up and take a well-deserved study break.
  • Check out Buff and Blue Study Break at Gelman Library on Wednesday, Dec. 13 from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. and on Tuesday, Dec. 14 from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. in Eckles Library.
  • Seek out designated Study Zones around campus. These zones will give students a place to concentrate on their work. Additional study spaces have also opened in Gelman Library.

Additional Resources
The CARE Network, a cross-department support system, is available to connect GW students with university resources and personalized care for any issues they might face. Any member of the university community who is concerned about the wellbeing of a student should submit a report through the CARE Network.

The Colonial Health Center also offers daily walk-in counseling on weekdays on the ground floor of the Marvin Center and support by phone at 202-994-5300, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for students experiencing anxiety and distress. Students can also download calming apps to their phones and review the self-help library for additional resources.

Students can turn to the Writing Center for additional help with papers, and the Language Center can assist students preparing for foreign language exams. The new STEMworks in the entrance floor of Gelman Library is a one-stop shop for quantitative and spatial reasoning skills for students, faculty, and staff of any major or discipline, including drop-in tutoring on STEM subjects, one-on-one meetings, small group sessions, consultations and workshops.

The Center for Career Services is also available for students seeking guidance on the search for internships and employment during the summer and full-time employment following graduation.

Student Life


GW’s New STEMworks Adds New Dimensions to Learning

September 11, 2017
The Gelman Library opens a one-stop shop to boost quantitative skills and support for programming and coding.