The Final Countdown: 4 Ways to Help Your Student Survive Finals

Ah, finals week. The time when stress is inevitable and showers are optional. As a veteran of 10 finals seasons, I consider myself somewhat of a professional test taker (I promise I took showers). What can you do as a parent to help your student through? Below are my top four experience-tested and science-proven (and, perhaps, my own parents’) tips.  

  1. Sleep on it. While an “all-nighter” of studying may logically seem like a good plan to increase study time, numerous studies have shown that getting sleep is required to help solidify newly-learned information to memory. Students may be able to log more study hours by staying up all night, but these hours will be inefficient (not to mention, painful). Perhaps the most-referenced article on this topic was by Diekelmann and Born in 2010 -- they offer the following helpful statement: Significant sleep benefits on memory are observed after an 8-hour night of sleep, but also after shorter naps of 1–2 hours, and memory retention can improve even after even an ultra-short nap of 6 minutes. However, longer sleep durations yield greater improvements.  
  2. Test yourself. Multiple studies have shown that spending time answering practice questions results in better information retention than spending the same amount of time re-reading or studying content. The concept is called the “testing effect.” Forcing the brain to recall what it has learned previously seems to solidify memory better than just reviewing information. If there are no practice questions available, improvise and find other ways to force the brain to recall information (i.e. groups of students can quiz each other, or individuals can choose a topic/concept and mentally recite everything the brain can remember on the subject).  
  3. Avoid cramming. The brain remembers things better a little at a time instead of all at once. It is better to study each subject for a smaller chunk of time each day than to only study the subject on the next day’s test the night before.
  4. Ditch the caffeine. Although caffeine may help decrease sleepiness, it can worsen test performance by increasing anxiety and jitters. Drinking a lot of caffeine while studying can make the brain dependent on caffeine; dependence on caffeine can cause worsened “withdrawal” tiredness a few hours after the most recent caffeine dose.

Additional Resources 

Danielle N. Wiese, MD

Author of this Article

Danielle N. Wiese, MD is a pediatrician who follows the recommendations of the American Academy of Pediatrics. She practices at Riley Physicians Pediatrics - IU Health North. Dr. Wiese earned her medical degree from the Indiana University School of Medicine and completed a residency at Nationwide Children's Hospital with the Ohio State University. She is an Indianapolis resident along with her husband and daughter Noelle.

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