Finals period in its worst form is nothing short of academic bulimia. We consume as much as we feasibly can, desperately trying to cram a semester’s worth of studying and memorization, only to purge everything into thin blue books over a few hours. Once that knowledge is flushed out, you’re likely to never look back.
Indeed, it’s the most absurd period of the academic semester. We have cumulative exams worth a third or half of our grade, sometimes more. You’re scavenging your room for notebooks from September. That class you may have been blowing off for six weeks suddenly has a 15-page paper due in four days. You realize you never got around to getting your own calculator or calc textbook, but now nobody can lend you one.
This isn’t learning, that’s for sure. In ways, this intellectual bulimia disgraces real growth, which takes discipline over time; we know that. But to examine how finals affect our lives solely through an academic lens is confining. Finals week is a highly ritualized, holistic practice. We can look at how finals impact our lives along several dimensions.
One of the most noticeable shifts finals evokes in our lifestyles is in our sleep patterns. Pulling all-nighters, studying from sunset until an exam the next day, becomes common practice. We’ll get together in groups, or fly solo, struggling to keep our eyelids pried and focused on the notes in front of us.
One must wonder: at what point is this practice no longer productive? When your body reaches a certain level of exhaustion, it would be better for you, your health and even your grade on the test, to give your brain the rest it needs.Your eyelids twitching are a sign that they don’t want to be open anymore — or that you’ve taken too much MDMA. What good is memorizing the causes and effects of the Treaty of Versailles if you spend the two-hour test period with your head on the table?
In general, time management during finals week is a challenging exercise. We have two to three hours of stress followed and preceded by large chunks of essentially unstructured time. These voids are full of potential, but also incredibly dangerous. Best case scenario: you have the discipline to balance studying, eating (healthily), sleeping (enough, though not excessively) and, if you’ve really got self-control, some exercise.
But let’s be realistic. I won’t deny that it was finals week spring semester freshman year that I finally caught up on the first three seasons of “Lost.”
I’ve never heard anyone say, “Hm, that final isn’t for six days — now is the perfect time for me to start studying in advance so I’m not stuck cramming the night before!”
And it is our less-than-perfect time management which leads to bizarre and unhealthy consumption patterns. Last year’s finals week I went through 2.5 Jazzman’s coffee cards, no joke. I was on a first-name basis with the baristas. Plus, just like molly before Spring Fling, Adderall prices suddenly skyrocket and everyone’s dealer seems to be out.
Finals week does have some positive elements, especially the camaraderie it evokes. I think it’s safe to say that if you’re in the Glenn G. Bartle Library past 2:30 a.m. you know you’re in the big leagues. If you find yourself in the Pods during those early morning hours, every peer is suddenly an ally in the collaborative effort to show your finals who’s boss. A real sense of community develops as knowing smiles and friendly nods are shared.
We could also look at how we speak to each other. Few are the conversations that exceed this standardized formulation: How are your tests? You know, and yours? Did you hear that so and so doesn’t have any finals? Yes. Let’s hate them for it. OK.
I find that if it isn’t a fact or essay idea we need to know for an exam, our brains have a hard time processing it in a sensible manner. Coffee. Exhaustion. Blue Books.
My favorite element of finals, though, is the refugee factor. For the students who pack air mattresses, coffee makers, cereal boxes and changes of underwear and camp out in Bartle Library for days at a time, I salute you.