Students Should Focus on Balance, Healthy Habits ahead of Final Exams

GW experts give students tips on how to prepare for exams with emotional, physical and mental wellness in mind.

gelman studying
December 02, 2016

By Kristen Mitchell

With final exams around the corner, George Washington University students have only a few more days of classes before the well-deserved reprieve of Winter Break. The key to getting through exams is taking care of your emotional, physical and mental wellness, university experts say.

Assistant Director of Outreach and Prevention for Mental Health Services in the Colonial Health Center Sarah Harte said it’s important for students to continue to eat and sleep on a regular schedule and to not force themselves to stay up late studying the night before a test.

“We have to trust the process that as you gradually learn things it will come together,” she said. “You cannot expect yourself to cram a whole semester’s worth of information into your brain, in one sitting, right before finals.”

She suggests for every 45 minutes of focused writing or studying, students should take a 15-minute break. Spending some time doing other things helps the brain focus when it’s time to study, she said.

“Some people think that interrupts their mojo, but I think they’ll find that there is something to be said of just detaching a little bit, and it’s easier to get back into it than they think it’s going to be,” Ms. Harte said. “There’s this idea that you have to keep working on something until it’s finished, but that ends up making it so you don’t have the objectivity that you sometimes need.”

Interim Director of Mental Health Services Gillian Berry said students should focus on activities that de-stress them during this busy time of the year, and that those things vary from person to person. GW’s annual Midnight Breakfast on Dec. 12 is a chance to take a break from studying and enjoy free food at District House.

“For someone it may be music, for another person it might be taking a run, for somebody else it might be even cooking a meal,” she said. “The goal is that you can identify what are your de-stressers.”

Dr. Berry suggested students visit Calm.com while studying, which provides meditation exercises and soothing images of mountains and beaches. Students can also download calming apps to their phones and review the Mental Health Center’s self-help library for additional resources.

Mental Health Services also offers 24/7 phone counseling and daily walk-in counseling at the Colonial Health Center on the ground floor of the Marvin Center for students experiencing anxiety and distress.

Director of Student Support and Family Engagement Tracy Arwari said the first thing students should do for end-of-semester planning is make a calendar and fill in the dates of all deadlines and tests. This will allow students to plan days in advance without any forgotten assignments sneaking up, she said.

Dr. Arwari leads the CARE Network, a cross-department support system that aims to connect GW students with university resources and personalized care for any issues they may be facing. By planning, students can prioritize their academics while still enjoying time in the city with friends before the holiday break, she said.

If students haven’t made an appearance in a professor’s office hours prior to exams, it’s not too late to do so, Dr. Arwari said. Reach out to professors and teaching assistants for help with discussion topics, papers or exam concepts before walking in on the big day.

“It’s never too late to take advantage of the support offered through your professor, department or program,” she said. “Make note of and attend group study and class review sessions.”

Students can also turn to the GW Tutoring Initiative and the Writing Center for additional help with papers, and the Language Center can assist students preparing for foreign language exams. There are additional resources available at Gelman and Eckles libraries and designated Study Zones across campus.

Dr. Arwari suggests students living in university housing turn to their resident adviser for support during exams and for help in getting connected with needed resources on campus.

“They are students who have been trained to help you navigate challenges and can talk with you about what’s happening in an authentic way,” she said.

Dr. Arwari emphasizes that students should focus on the things they can control, take care of themselves and keep exams in perspective.

“Take it one step at a time and be as diligent as possible with your academics in these last few weeks,” she said. “You’re not going to learn an entire semester’s worth of calculus in one night, but it is possible to learn more of calculus over a series of several nights. Break it down and approach your assignments or studying piece by piece. Incrementally you’ll make progress.”

Most of all, there are resources, departments and people across campus willing and able to help, Dr. Arwari said. 

Student Life