Feature Stories Campus Events All Stories

How to Cope with Exam Week

As college students enter the period of final examinations, their stress level is bound to increase. But there are some common sense ways to limit the stress and avoid the problems it can cause, according to Jane Horton, director of student health and counseling at Washington and Lee University.

“Everything has to be done by a deadline,” she says, “and it can be overwhelming.”

Horton and Jan Kaufman, who runs the office of health promotion, which educates students on taking care of themselves, offer the following tips for students:

  • Eat well. Avoid high-carbohydrate or high-sugar foods because, although they can help you stay awake in the short term, what your body really needs to function well is protein.
  • Exercise. The best thing would be to leave your studies for 45 minutes to an hour and do some aerobic exercise. Even a quick ten-minute break to take a walk around the campus will make you more focused and productive in your studying.
  • Avoid all-nighters. It is not in your best interests to study all night because your body needs sleep in order to focus and concentrate. Go into an exam well rested and you will function at your best.
  • Take quick breaks while studying. For example, taking ten minutes to talk to a friend who may go to another college, will refocus your mind. But don’t let that 10 minute conversation turn into an hour – that’s procrastination.
  • Break your studying up into short blocks. If you are studying something like math or physics you can only concentrate well and effectively for about an hour. Take a break and do something completely different for five or ten minutes. On the other hand, if you are reading or studying for general comprehension, you can maintain studying for two or three hours. You will retain information more effectively if you study in three one-hour blocks spread out over two or three days rather than one three-hour block in one day.
  • Minimize your time on e-mail, Facebook, IM, and all the other electronic communications you use. Being plugged-in 24-7 can be a huge distraction. Set up a dedicated period of time to check electronic media, say once every two hours.
  • Avoid drugs. It is a common mistake to think that study drugs will enhance your ability to study and do well in an exam. Sharing someone else’s drugs prescribed for medical reasons such as ADD or ADHD can result in physical effects such as increased heartbeat, increased blood pressure, insomnia and an increased sense of anxiety. It’s never a good way to go into a final exam.
  • Don’t compromise all your efforts with alcohol. Even lower levels of alcohol have a direct negative impact on learning and memory. It affects the hippocampus, the part of the brain responsible for taking in information and converting it to short term and long term memory.
  • Talk to your professor if you are having problems completing tasks. Many students are reluctant to contact faculty, but professors are very willing to meet and provide feedback and guidance on how to accomplish tasks.
  • Study with someone else from your class. You can share notes, quiz each other and use collaborative studying to learn the material. Obviously, if you’re doing an individual project like writing a paper this won’t work, but there’s a lot of learning that can happen more effectively in a small group or with another person from your class.

Like many other colleges and universities, Washington and Lee offers many resources during the exam period to help ease student stress, especially for first-year students who will be experiencing their first college exams. The following events and resources are available for W&L students.


  • Lee Chapel Meeting to Discuss Finals Week. Friday Dec. 5, at 4: 30 p.m., the Executive Committee of the Student Body meets with the Class of 2012 in Lee Chapel to discuss Finals Week, self-scheduled exams, the freedoms and obligations of W&L students, and the foundation of trust affiliated with the Honor System.
  • Class of 2012 , If You give a General a Cookie… Study Break. Sunday Dec. 7 at 9 p.m., take an hour out from studying and enjoy cookies, brownies and milk in the Marketplace. It’s all courtesy of the First-Year Leadership Council and the Marketplace Staff.
  • Midnight Breakfast. Monday Dec. 8 enjoy being waited on by faculty and staff at the university’s popular annual late-night breakfast from 10 p.m. to midnight in the Commons.
  • Massage Breaks. Every year during exam week, W&L hires two massage therapists to offer ten-minute upper back and neck massages in the Commons. Sign-up sheets are on the Outing Club door in the Commons.


  • Study Tips. On the Study Tips Web site, click on “Tips on How To Study” at the bottom of the page. It gives advice on specific aspects of studying and preparing for exams. For example, “Preparing for Tests” and “Taking Tests” gives you great information on all aspects, such as dealing with test anxiety, things to do before the test, tips for test taking, and then goes into specifics such as the types of test – multiple choice, essays, true/false tests, emergency test preparation, etc.
  • Academic Peer Tutoring. W&L has peer tutors in practically all academic disciplines on campus, so if you need help at any time, not just during exam week, go to the Academic Peer Tutoring Web site. Click on “Request a Peer Tutor” at the top of the page then fill out the Adobe form. It will go directly to a student who operates a database of 100 or so students who peer tutor. Dave Leonard, associate dean of student affairs, and dean of first-year students, says that 85 percent of students using peer tutoring last year gave it a huge thumbs-up, saying it is very effective not only in assisting student learning, but also in improving grades. “The peer tutor program is a great resource in terms of academic assistance,” says Leonard.
  • Study Break Stretches. This is a 30 minute session designed to teach you tension-reducing stretches that can be done while you study. You can also learn breathing and stretching exercises to rejuvenate and relax your mind after studying all day. Contact Patti Colliton in the fitness center to sign up. E-mail her at collitonp@wlu.edu or call ext. 8287.
  • Student Health Center, located in the first-year residence Davis Hall. Nurses staff the center 24-7 and have ten beds where students can pop in and spend the night. The beds are mainly used for physical illness, but are also used for emotional, stressful situations where people are feeling overwhelmed, can’t sleep or are upset. “They can come here, a nurse can put them to bed, take care of them, and they can talk with a counselor or see a doctor. We can help them,” says Jane Horton, director of student health and counseling.
  • Counselors. If you need help dealing with stress or other issues, call ext. 8590 or e-mail counseling@wlu.edu for an appointment with a counselor. Emergency walk-ins are at 11 a.m. Monday to Friday. After hours, the Student Health Center is the point of contact for anyone who needs to speak to a counselor in a crisis situation. It is located on the lower level of Davis Hall, or call ext. 8401.