Health and Psychology Experts Weigh in on Preparing Students for Finals
by Jennifer Spencer
With significant portions of students' grades riding on their end-of-semester work, all eyes are on finals—both those of the students sitting the exams and those of the parents watching from a distance.
Fordham administrators said parents can help their students through this important season with some common sense and thoughtful support.
Kathleen Malara, director of Fordham's Student Health Services, said that while her best advice is basic common sense, students often neglect to take it.
"Rest, good nutrition, and exercise," Malara advised. "It's very simple, actually, but it doesn't always happen."
It's no surprise that students busy studying for finals stay up late, grab unhealthy food on the go, and are glued to their desks for hours on end.
But Malara said students will see positive results as they break the cycle.
"The food students eat is fueling the brain," Malara said. "Proteins, fruits, and vegetables are going to be much better fuel for studying than pizza, potato chips, or that cookie."
"If students take a quick exercise break to walk around campus, it will stimulate the brain and blood flow," she said. "They may even have a brighter moment where something comes to them for that paper they've been writing."
Malara suggested parents could encourage their students' well-being by opting for healthy gifts, like fruit-filled Edible Arrangements or gift cards to restaurants with healthy options.
Jeffrey Ng, Psy.D., director of Fordham University's Counseling and Psychological Services, said that when students neglect their physical health, they decrease their ability to cope with the stressors they are facing.
"Students think they can sacrifice a night of sleep to get a paper done, but if their sleep deprivation exacerbates their anxiety, it may not be a good trade-off," Ng said.
Ng said that while anxiety is the number one concern of students visiting Counseling and Psychological Services, the counselors on his team are not necessarily in the business of eradicating anxiety all together.
Some degree of anxiety, Ng said, can be helpful for enhancing performance when we face challenging circumstances.
"Anxiety can be very adaptive. For example, if I'm walking out onto Columbus Avenue and a bus is about to hit me, I would hope I would become anxious," Ng said.
"It becomes problematic, however, when we respond with an anxiety response when there isn't a real threat or when our baseline level of anxiety is such that it impairs our performance."
Ng said that while each individual is different, counselors often teach behavioral skills such as breathing exercises, visualization, and progressive muscle relaxation that can often provide immediate relief. Stress reduction techniques are also posted on the office's website.
Ng said parents play a crucial role in helping their students manage finals stress. Many students suffer from anxiety due to what Ng called "all or nothing or catastrophic thinking," for example, believing that if they do poorly on one test their academic and professional careers are over.
Parents, Ng said, can help students keep each exam in perspective.
"Parents can try to reinforce to their students that we can have hiccups or stumble, and still do well academically in the long term," he said.
Ng said parents can also help students more accurately understand and attribute the cause of any disappointing results in ways that are less harmful to overall self-worth.
"A student can not do well on exam for a lot of reasons that have nothing to do with who the student is," Ng said, citing illness or a particularly difficult exam. "Maybe your son or daughter isn't great at math, but maybe they're great at something else. We all have different intelligences and competencies."
In addition to practicing physical and emotional self-care, students can take advantage of academic support resources on campus like the Writing Centers at both Lincoln Center and Rose Hill.
Stephanie Pietros, director of the Writing Center, said students learn skills that will help them not just at finals but as they move into their professional careers.
"The objective is not just to fix an individual essay, but to make the students better writers overall so they can approach future projects with a better skill set," Pietros said.
At the end of the day, Ng said, it is just as important that parents celebrate the end of finals with their students as it is that they encourage them in healthy habits as they prepare.
"Get a sense of what contributed to their successes and reinforce those habits. We want to validate and affirm their successes," he said.