Easing the Stress of Exams for our Kids in College


Around this time of year, many university students are writing their exams at the end of the fall term or handing in final papers, making it a stress-filled time. I know when my daughter was away at university, one of the ways that I could let her know I was thinking about her at that time was by sending her an exam survival care package. At her university, there were premade packages that you could order from the university but sending ones with personal touches from home are extra special too. 

Ideas for the exam survival box include:

  • Quick and easy (non-perishable) meal options like canned pasta, Ramen noodles, boxes of mac and cheese, soups, instant oatmeal, cold cereal, fruit cups.  Sure, there may be better options than these nutritionally but I’ve seen the way some of the college students would eat during exams – existing solely on chips or cookies and at least these provide a more substantial and balanced meal than that.  Some peanut butter and crackers can be good to have on hand too.
  • Tea, coffee, hot cocoa, fruity drink mixes. If you’re visiting your child, taking a case of bottled water is a great healthier alternative.
  • Snacks like chips, microwave popcorn, pretzels (pretzels make for a more nutritious choice and if there are no nut allergies, they would be a great addition as well)  You can also look for some of the healthier chip options such as those made from sweet potatoes if you think your child would eat them.
  • Some sweet treats for occasional splurges.
  • School supplies that can make organizing for exams a little easier – index cards for making study notes, Post-Its, highlighters, new pens (especially ones with coloured ink for colour coding), fun themed pencils and erasers
  • Something fun for taking a study break – an inflatable ball or frisbee that can be used for a quick impromptu game with dorm-mates to blow off some energy, one of those squishy stress balls, a new active game for the video game system, a new movie on DVD or new CD of dance tunes, a cuddly new stuffed toy

Besides sending them “I’m thinking of you” care packages, another way we can support our kids who are away at university and writing exams is by providing them with skills and knowledge they need for success.

  • Get enough sleep: Emphasize the importance of getting enough sleep. Many kids try to cram before exams and keep crazy late hours, trying to get by on only an hour or two of sleep. Help them figure out how to plan out their study time so they can get in at least 6 hours of uninterrupted sleep (8-10 hours is even better).
  • Get in some physical activity: I know when I was taking exams, my time was spent either sitting at a desk or lying on my bed with my face buried in the books. Had I taken a short break to do something active – going for a 20 minute walk or heading outside to shoot some hoops for a bit – my study time would likely have been all that more productive when I went back to it.
  • Stay hydrated: Encourage them to keep a bottle of water nearby at all times while studying.  It’s easy to get wrapped up in prepping for the exams to the point where we forget to eat and drink properly.
  • Stay nourished: Speaking of eating properly, a balanced meal helps to feed not only the body but the mind as well. Taking a nutrition break and making sure to get in some protein, carbohydrates, and yes even a little bit of fat helps keep everything in tune. It’s especially important to have a decent (not too filling as to dull the senses) meal before heading off to an exam.
  • Use deep breathing techniques:  When I was teaching, I taught my students to do 4-4-8s. We practised them ahead of time and then used them just before each test as a way of calming our bodies and minds. You breathe deeply, inhaling for a slow count of 4, holding for a slow count of 4, and then exhaling for a slow count of 8.
  • Talk it out: When they get overwhelmed, be sure they know that you are just a phone call (or Skype) away. Show them you can be a good listener and give them the opportunity to vent. Resist the urge to attempt to solve their problems or offer advice unless they ask for it.
  • Listening to music: Listening to some fast rockin’ music or something quiet and soothing (depending on what they need at that time) can often serve as a great way to unwind and step away from their studying, especially when done right before an exam.  By then, continued “cramming” can often be more harmful than good as panic starts to set in so taking a few moments to relax with music can help to take their minds off the test long enough to calm their nerves a bit.
  • Get help:  Most universities have help centers where students can go and learn better study skills and techniques. If your child is having difficulties with exams, this is a good place to find the assistance they need to improve.
  • Post exam rituals/rewards:  Help your child come up with a way of unwinding and rewarding themselves after an exam. It’s tempting to immediately begin studying for the next one but taking even an hour or two to head out to the movies, catch up on their favourite tv show, gather up some dorm-mates for a board or card game, or go out for a bite to eat can give them something to look forward to after an exam and give them some energy for the next one.

7 thoughts on “Easing the Stress of Exams for our Kids in College

  1. This is a great list! As someone who just went through exams not long ago, everything is spot-on. I definitely got sent hot cocoa and pastas/ramen and they were perfect and quick. School supplies are ALWAYS great!

  2. I love the idea of a care package for my nephew during his first ever round of college exams. Thanks for the inspiration!

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