Preparing For Final Exams - May 2013

Don't Tug on Superman's Cape

In Sally Firmin's study skills class, she always plays her favorite Jim Croce song to teach her students about the value of strong study skills. The chorus of the song advises, "You don't tug on Superman's cape, you don't spit into the wind, you don't pull the mask off that old Lone Ranger and you don't mess around with..." While the song traditionally says "Jim," Firmin enjoys substituting the word "tests" to stress the importance of preparing for exams.

As the Academic Support Programs Director, Firmin has been through her fair share of finals. In addition to being a Baylor graduate herself, she has seen her three children endure the challenges of Baylor's finals week. Along the way, she has compiled years worth of tips parents can offer to help their students reduce stress and anxiety during this busy week.

The most important thing a parent can do to help their students is to encourage them.

"Students need the support and encouragement of their parents," Firmin said. Along with reassuring your student, parents can also pass along a few tips that can make their student's week a little bit easier.

  • Spaced Practice

First, students need to engage in spaced practice.

"Research about the brain tells us that spaced practice allows for better retention of the material," Firmin said. In fact, students retain almost 35 percent more information when they study in 50 minute segments than two hour spans. Psychologically, people tend to remember the beginning and the end of a situation better than the middle.

"So if you create more beginnings, more endings and shorter middles while studying, then you retain more of the information," Firmin said.

  • Start Early

Second, students need to start early. Firmin recommends that students produce a five-day study plan to prepare for each final. After creating an all-encompassing study guide, students should make a schedule of the items they would like to cover every day. The fifth day of the plan should be reserved as a comprehensive review day of all the material. This will allow the student to study efficiently while also partaking in spaced practice.

  • Sleep

Third, students should make sleep a priority. Sleep is essential in converting short-term to long-term memory. Students who sleep at least six hours the night before a test will be able to recall more information than someone who crammed and pulled an "all-nighter."

  • Eliminate Distractions

Fourth, students should eliminate distractions. Along with studying in a quiet environment, students should silence their phones during study times, waiting to check their messages until their break. Parents should also give students their space.

"There is this feeling that if you can stay in touch then you can direct and control your student, making him or her study a little bit more. However, it is really counterproductive," Firmin said. "It would be better if parents would let their student come to them. This way the student can tap into the encouragement and support of the parent, but do it on their terms. It's a lot more productive."

  • Seek Help

Fifth, students should seek help if needed. The office of Academic Support Programs hosts finals workshops, assists with test preparation plans and study schedules, gives one-on-one academic counseling and offers tutoring in five separate locations. Students can even go to the Baylor tutoring website to see when a tutor will be available for specific courses. Along with tutoring, students also can attend their professor's office hours for one-on-one help.

"Students who attend tutoring know there is value in talking to someone else who knows a little more about the subject than they do," Firmin said. "However, if they think they are going to need tutoring, they need to get it now and not the night before the test."

Along with encouraging your student, parents can participate in the Parents League's First Call to Prayer. During this event, Baylor parents join together once a month to pray for students' specific needs. If you can't join a Parents League chapter for this event, you can join online to pray at the same time. For more information, please visit the Parents League website.

While finals are never easy, students can be smart in their approach to studying. By following Firmin's tips, parents can help reduce their child's stress during this important week.