Midterm exam time is a stressful time for most students. For many students, midterm exam time comes as a wake-up call. The beginning of the semester has progressed smoothly, or so it seems, and then suddenly your student realizes how much there still is to do on that paper or project, or how many chapters are yet unread, or how much material must be memorized for an exam. Although some students may have had large midterm or final exams in high school, for some students this may be a new experience. This may be one of the first big college reality checks for your student.
College parents may feel helpless as their college student begins to worry or even panic over exams. This is one of those college moments where your student needs to figure out how they will cope. However, there are a few things that parents can do to help students through this stressful time.
- Recognize that your student is tired and stressed right now. This may not be the best time for lengthy chats about everyday life. Understand that they are preoccupied by what needs to get done.
- Use your best listening skills. Your student may need to vent. They may need to complain about the amount of work, the unfairness of the professors, the difficulty of the material or the assignments. Provide an ear and let they know that you understand.
- Understand that your student may not want to talk about it. Your student may see no point in telling you about every exam or paper or project that they have to do. They may just want to get it done.
- Remind your student that this is part of the rhythm of the academic year. They will get through these few days or weeks and then things will level off again. Other students are probably feeling the same stress.
- Remind your student to think about their health. Unfortunately, midterm exams often come at about the same time in the semester when students are hit by colds, viruses, flu, and general exhaustion. Remind your student to take care of their health and get help if they need it.
- Help your student keep midterms in perspective. It may be a generous portion of their semester grade in a course, but it is just one piece of the class. Your student is not likely to fail a class based on one exam. If they have been doing the work all semester, they will probably do well on the exam. Don’t let your student panic and lose perspective on the importance of the exam or paper. Even if they have not been doing well, this course is only half over. They can use this as a good time to decide what needs to be changed to be successful in the second half of the semester.
- Don’t micromanage. It’s okay to suggest a few study skill techniques that may be helpful – time management, study groups, using the library rather than studying in the dorm, getting a tutor, but then let your student decide how they will get through this time and what they will, or will not, do. Your student needs to learn this lesson on their own, and if whatever they choose doesn’t work, then they will be that much wiser next time.
- Help your student have realistic expectations. If your student is a first-year student, and this is the first time that they have faced a major college exam, they may not do as well as they hoped. Remind them that this is a first experience. They should be prepared for a grade that may be lower than they hoped for. It will be a learning experience, and like anything else, dealing with midterms may take practice. Many students receive grades during their first semester that are lower than they are used to receiving in high school. This is a new level of study and they may need to learn new ways of approaching it.
- Encourage your student not to panic. Even if they feel overwhelmed right now, they need to take a breath (figuratively and literally) and recognize that they can do something to take control. If they are far behind, they may not be able to accomplish everything, but they can do something. Some students feel so overwhelmed that they panic and do nothing. Anything that your student does, even if small steps, will help.
- This is an excellent time to send a care package from home and/or send a “cheer up” card for your student’s mailbox. It’s the next best thing to an “I know you can do it” hug.