You’ve probably felt it before.
The heart-racing, forehead-sweating, sleep-lacking, head-cramming, mental state of panic that comes with final exam season.
MentalHelp, in a survey of 1,000 students, found that 31% of those surveyed reported their largest source of anxiety to be final exams. The second-highest stressor, graduation, was only reported by 24% of students.
Final exams are a rite of passage for college students, a final step before they can successfully mount a degree on their wall.
But is the pressure that comes with those humongous tests worth it? Does surviving final exam week really propel a student to the next level?
That depends on who you ask.
According to research conducted by Dr. Earl Turner, a professor of psychology from Pepperdine University, 87% of Generation Z college students are seriously stressed out by school.
Payton Espolon, a Kellogg Community College student, opened up about how daunting the task of navigating final exams can be.
“My mental health is impacted by final exams. I am just constantly worrying and stressed about my grades and if I will get everything done in time,” Espolon said.
Certain students are faced with even more pressure surrounding exams. Many scholarships, both athletic and academic, have GPA stipulations that require students to maintain high marks.
“For me, my scholarship requires me to have a certain GPA and to do an honors paper, which increases the stress and pressure,” Espolon continued.
KCC music student Colin McDowell said that his exams are nerve-wracking simply due to their weight in his overall class grade.
“Finals dictate so much of the grade in college, which is why it is such a big deal. For me it is more than half of my grade, so it is super big on my stress levels,” McDowell said.
Although they are the ones experiencing it, students are not the only people taking notice of the anxiety that final exams can cause.
“I believe that an increase in stress can cause a strain on a student’s mental health. In some instances stress may exacerbate preexisting mental health concerns,” Holly McKee said.
McKee is the director of KCC’s Center for Student Success, and she is no stranger to stressed-out students.
McKee acknowledged that the Center for Student Success experiences a definite rise in the number of students utilizing its services during exam season.
“We see an increase in students seeking assistance with final papers as well as preparing for final exams,” McKee stated.
So, if both students and adults are aware of the workload that final exams place on young people’s shoulders, why are final exams still a norm on most college campuses?
Is there another side to the story?
For educators, final exams can serve many purposes. Kimberly Montney, a business professor at KCC, said that final exams in her class are crucial in preparing students for higher education.
“I feel having final exams, and midterms, help prepare my students to be successful if they choose to move onto a four-year institution,” Montney said.
For Montney, final exams are not a way to punish students or make them sweat; they are a method of ensuring students’ prosperity in the future.
“One of my goals is to create an atmosphere that allows for students to achieve their goals in education. Part of this involves including final exams in my course,” Montney added.
KCC Counselor Tim Bond said that finals, although they may lead to stress, can build character in students and set them up for success.
“Interestingly, certain amounts of stress can provide motivation and incentive, leading to success, accomplishments and achievements,” Bond explained.
However, too much of anything can have consequences, as Bond was careful to point out.
“It is when stress builds up, is left unattended, and becomes overwhelming that people can experience the adverse impacts,” Bond said.
There lies the big question: How can students allow final exam stress to mold them positively, while also managing their emotions in a constructive way?
Tips for Final Exam Success
Aside from simply studying class material in the weeks leading up to exams, there are many other viable options for students to prepare themselves.
Many schools offer student support resources at no charge to students. KCC’s Center for Student Success, for example, gives students a location to receive tutoring, counseling or even just get homework done.
“If you find yourself stressed out for finals and are looking for ways to prepare, contact the Center for Student Success. We have tutors available in a variety of subjects. In addition, our tutors can provide you with study and test-taking tips,” McKee said.
As for those tips, Bond listed a few that can enhance a student’s studying experience.
“Space out your studying. Don’t try to cram all your studying into one long cramming session the night before the exam. Develop a study schedule/plan well in advance of the exams and adhere to it just like you would a work schedule,” Bond said.
Bond added that while there is no secret recipe for guaranteed academic success, focusing on controllable factors is a student’s best bet.
“Though it is true that we can control the occurrence of some stressors in our lives, there are other stressors that can occur that are beyond our control,” he said. “But what we can do is put ourselves in the best possible position to respond to these stressors in a positive and constructive manner.”
For information about KCC’s counseling and tutoring services, contact the Center for Student Success at [email protected] or 269-660-2296.