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A Balanced Approach to Finals Exams

It’s almost May, which means final exams are right around the corner. True to form, we wanted to provide students with proactive support for exam preparation. Cumulative exams challenge students beyond raw intellectual ability. Exam week offers a microcosm of the Executive Function curriculum, which teaches four pillars of EF to help students thrive in school and beyond. These four pillars should be in the spotlight during exam season: organization, time management, learning skills, and impression management.

Organization is critical to crushing cumulative exams. Structuring study time, responses to essay questions, and an approach to test day are essential. Unfortunately, most students ignore the organizational component of exam preparation. A clear desk promotes a clear mind. To crush exams, students should remember the one subject at a time principal.

Time management is vital during exams, both in preparation for the test and in the exam room. Planning studying time instead of diving in is recommended. Students should break down each subject into concise chunks with clear deliverables. Scheduling breaks is also essential to avoid burnout and over-studying. Slow and steady wins the race, particularly when preparing for cumulative exams. To use a familiar analogy, which garden sounds healthier? Garden A has been watered every day for six months. Garden B receives the same amount of water, but all in one day. It’s not a trick question – garden A is healthier for sure. That’s because it’s not the amount of water; it’s about how much water is retained. The same is true for studying. Cumulative exams require cumulative efforts. Don’t overlook the importance of diminishing marginal returns.

Learning how to learn is one of the critical tenets of our EF-driven curriculum. Students who perform best on exams have commonalities in how they study: a macro-to-micro approach, realistic self-testing, and interleaved practice. They focus on understanding broader concepts before diving into the details. They design practical practice tests well before the exam date and avoid repeating the same content repeatedly while studying.

Impression management should not be overlooked when preparing for final exams either. After all, the exam doesn’t fall from the sky; a teacher puts it together and grades the end-product. Attending review sessions and office hours shows teachers that students care about succeeding in the class. It also helps students demystify the exam because teachers will give hints about what topics will be covered in what way.

Lastly, let’s talk about mental health. Students often experience anxiety, burnout, fatigue, and procrastination during the weeks leading up to exams. Starting early is critical to exam preparation because cramming reduces students’ ability to focus, retain information, and think critically. All-nighters and reduced sleep can lead to poor sleep habits and unhealthy eating habits. Therefore, students must start studying earlier to be in a better headspace and enter the exam room well-rested and confident.

During exam prep, students often barricade themselves in a ‘study bunker’ and attempt to pull off nine- or ten-hour workdays. Students shouldn’t abandon the habits that worked for them before exam prep started. Instead, students should schedule a time to step away from the bunker and do something fun. These students will return to their studies fresher and more focused than their counterparts. Finding a suitable study space is also essential to improving how students study and process information. The proper study space is about minimizing distractions and boosting stamina.

Students should avoid sugary, processed foods and aim for protein and natural sugars when studying. The brain needs water and glucose to function well. Students who stock their study space with healthy snacks like fruits, nuts, and high-protein snacks will have better focus and stamina. It is also crucial to pay attention to hydration. Caffeinated, sugary beverages might give students a short-term boost, but they are often followed by a crash. Instead, stock up on water.

A student’s mental health should be the number one priority during exam season. Accountability and a broader support system can help students maintain their mental health. Parents and guardians should encourage their children to ask for help and seek academic support if necessary. These tips can help students maintain their mental health during exam season, leading to better academic performance and overall well-being.

Lastly, providing accountability and a broader support system is essential for students’ success. Parents can help their children by providing accountability and support. We hope you find these thoughts about exam preparation and the vital role of executive function helpful.

Whether it’s encouraging office hour appointments, helping to schedule study group sessions, or finding a one-on-one academic coach for this stressful time period, accountability goes a long way to keeping your child confident and sharp during exams. For more ideas like this, please check out our blog. If your child could benefit from one-on-one academic coaching, please reach out today to learn more about our services.

Evan Weinberger


Staying Ahead of the Game offers unique academic coaching & tutoring services to help good students achieve greatness.

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