Within the next few weeks, parents will, without a doubt, begin to receive a suspiciously large number of phone calls from their students. What is suspicious about these phone calls is not their quantity, but their subject matter. For once, these phone calls will not start with “I’m out of meal plan money again” or “I’m sorry about the credit card bill this month.” Instead, they will start with clearly spoken, audible words about how classes are going then crash down into a fit of confusion and panic about final exams.
May is, of course, notorious for causing a stampede of hysteria even among the strongest of students. The idea of an entire semester’s worth of work being boiled down to a single exam worth potentially a quarter of your grade is absolutely petrifying. And to top it all off, this stress does not even account for the most important question that students have yet to ask: is the exam cumulative?
As silly as this all sounds, the weight of final exams is truly a dilemma for the student population. The blanket of anxiety covering them at this time of the semester is unparalleled to anything that students have felt in previous academic settings. From the professor’s standpoint, final exams are justifiable because, in theory, students have been preparing for this exam the entire semester. But think about your student: when is the last time they remembered what they had for breakfast even one day ago? The reality is that student live fast-paced lives, and with the constant amassing of schoolwork, their brains have little room for long-term retention (that space is specifically reserved for their friends’ Netflix passwords). So, odds are that your student’s final exam preparation won’t be a marathon, but a sprint; a frantic, one-week period filled with caffeine-induced labor that minimizes sleep and maximizes stress. This is the dangerous part.
Normally, stress is uncomfortable but part of any academic setting. However, at this time of the year, stress levels have risen far beyond a healthy amount and most students do themselves an enormous disservice by obsessing over the amount of work they have to do. Assignments become the main objective in their lives and, quite literally, everything else takes a distant step back. Hygiene, happiness, and even eating are pushed back to the furthest corner of any student’s mind and they lose sight of what is most important in life. In their minds, the repercussions of doing poorly on an exam are amplified. The rest of their lives will be marred by this singular failure and no one will ever hire them. Of course, in hindsight, one day this will all be a ridiculous memory to your students, but at this very moment their current state of mind is all that there is. As veterans of your twenties, you understand that, in this stage of your life, anxiety over the little things inevitably dissipates, and, soon, you will have no memory of worry to begin with.
So, as your young academics begin to reach out to you, I implore you all to reach back and remind them that no matter what, their health and happiness take precedent over any and all exams. In all honesty, this is no easy task. Students have been conditioned to do everything that they can to achieve in high-functioning academic environments. When you initiate this conversation, they might say, “You guys don’t get it,” they might start yelling, they might even start to cry right then and there. Of course, no one can predict how these caffeinated students might react to such advice, but I personally promise you one thing: this conversation will be the most important one that you can have with your student during the semester. Students desperately need to be reminded that exams are not the foundations of their future -- and there are no better people for the job than the families who raised them.
Written by Jason Arquette of Springfield, Virginia, a junior who is triple majoring in History, Literature, and Professional and Technical Writing, with a minor in Political Science. In the coming months, Jason will give families a view of student life at Virginia Tech and offer his perspective on what it means to be a Hokie.