May 24, 2024

Acing the end of the year

By Emma Michiels, Instructor

As a student, the end of the year can feel like a daunting mountain to climb. Balancing multiple deadlines and finding the motivation to study can be particularly challenging as the weather warms up and the end is in sight. This is particularly true for students with executive function challenges. Students with executive functioning difficulties struggle with focus, planning, and self-regulation behaviors. Due to these obstacles, it is often hard for students with executive dysfunction to make their way through the labyrinth of final exams, papers and projects. Here are some practical tips to help students navigate the end-of-semester chaos with confidence.

1. Break It Down

When faced with a big project, exam or paper, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. The key is to break down the task into smaller, more manageable steps. Create a checklist of everything that needs to get done, and then tackle one item at a time. This approach not only makes the workload seem less intimidating but also provides students with a sense of accomplishment as each item is checked off the list.

2. Use a Planner or Digital Calendar

Keeping track of deadlines, exam dates, and study sessions can be challenging. Use a planner, digital calendar, or task management app to organize tasks into one comprehensive schedule. Set reminders for important dates and create a daily and/or weekly plan to stay on track. Color-coding different subjects or tasks can also help students quickly identify what’s next on the list.

3. Prioritize Tasks

With so much to do, it’s important to prioritize tasks based on their deadlines and importance. Use the “urgent-important” matrix to determine what needs immediate attention and what can be scheduled for later. What tasks are the most pressing? Which grades need the most attention? What is due soon? And which assignments are worth the most points?  Help students talk through their to-do list and prioritize items with intentionality and thoughtfulness.

4. Be Proactive 

Effective studying doesn’t necessarily mean waiting for the teacher to go over the study guide. Successful students get a jumpstart on studying by proactively reviewing notes, organizing study materials and trying practice problems- even before the teacher has started official “study sessions.” The same is true with papers, projects and lab reports. Ask your student, “What can you start today to make tomorrow a bit easier?”

5. Determine an Effective Study Environment

Some people work best in complete silence, while others prefer a bit of background noise. Experiment with different settings to find what works best. Consider factors like lighting, noise level, and comfort, as well as the number of distractions in the workspace. Once your student finds an optimal study spot, encourage them to stick with it for consistency.

6. Use Time Management Techniques to Stay Motivated

Time management can be a significant challenge for students with executive functioning problems. Techniques like the Pomodoro Technique or time blocking can help with focus and productivity. For the Pomodoro Technique, set a timer for 25 minutes of focused work, followed by a 5-minute break. After four “Pomodoros,” take a longer break. Time blocking involves setting aside specific periods for different tasks, ensuring students allocate time for various responsibilities. Time management can help keep your students’ motivation up by adding breaks and planning out rewards that can keep your student’s eye’s on the prize.

7. Self-Advocacy

If your student is struggling to manage his/her workload, encourage them to reach out for support. Help your child write an email to his/her teacher, academic advisor, or counselor. Alternatively, role play a teacher conversation with your child so they have the confidence and competence to have that conversation in-person themselves. Additionally, encourage your child to form study groups with classmates. Collaborating with others can provide motivation and accountability.

8. Managing Stress

During stressful times, it’s easy to neglect self-care. However, taking care of your student’s physical and mental health is crucial for maintaining focus and energy. Make sure you encourage your child to get enough sleep, eat nutritious meals, and engage in regular exercise.

9. Celebrate and Reflect On Achievements

Finally, remember to celebrate and reflect on achievements, no matter how small. Completing a study session, submitting an assignment, or finishing an exam are all reasons to be proud. Take time to acknowledge and reflect on your student’s hard work and encourage them to reward themself. 

With these tips, students will be better equipped to handle final papers, cumulative exams and long-term projects. It might seem overwhelming at first, but even students with executive function challenges can conquer the end-of-year crunch period if they are armed with the right tools, strategies and scaffolds.