Don’t panic too much over impending finals

Don’t panic too much over impending finals (credit: Annette Ko/) Don’t panic too much over impending finals (credit: Annette Ko/)
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Finals are finally here. For most of the semester, it’s that inevitable week that raises little concern because it feels so far away; it seems insignificant in comparison to the daily grind of assignments and basic survival that make time move so slowly. The days add up, and before you know it, Thanksgiving comes and goes.

Suddenly, there is only one week left. Only now do you realize that those paper and project due dates — both announced and forgotten the first day of classes — all somehow fall within just three days. Panic ensues, and there’s no way the work will ever stop. The Mayans were wrong in predicting the apocalypse. It’s not Dec. 21: It’s finals week.

Eventually, the projects and papers get finished, but only after procrastination pushes you to the last moment when you induce a caffeinated-adrenaline wave and ride it until the hour most people wake up. Now, the only obstacle left between you and the 28X is the final exam.

This is the test to rule them all — literally. Half of your grade depends on this three-hour exam. The 10 assignments that took away many a night’s sleep? Worthless. Forget to read that one chapter covered on the exam, and an entire semester of hard work can be thrown down the drain.

Wait a minute — calm down, breathe. Take comfort in the natural tendency for the worst assumptions to be proven untrue. In my experience, exams are never as terrible as expected. Finals for classes I was breezing through were no more difficult than previous assessments I had already mastered.

On the other hand, the finals for classes I was just barely surviving were no more torturous than the homework assignments I was only capable of half-doing. Grades aren’t significantly changed on the very last day; they were determined the very day you decided how much effort you were willing to put into a course.

So you’ve been doing well in a course. You feel good, and you're confident that this final will be a pleasant joke. Great, be confident, but please study. The final will only be a joke if you maintain the work ethic that got you there. On the other hand, if you’re barely floating and just want a dreaded course done with, study to guarantee passing. Don’t let apathy lead you to repeating the course.

Now the great worry becomes, “How do I study all the material presented in the semester?” Simply, you don’t. It’s impossible to study the entire syllabus just as it’s impossible for the exam to cover every single potential topic. Don’t read the entire textbook. Focus mainly on the latter material that has not yet been tested on. If there’s time, review early lectures. Time is precious and must be used efficiently.

What’s more is that finals week is actually quite relaxing. There are no more due dates to worry about and no more morning classes to wake up for. Yes, there’s the dreaded morning final, but usually the schedule balances out so there’s at least one day to sleep in. If not, there’s always reading day. Take advantage of the opportunity to wake up late. Sleep tastes better than caffeine and, more importantly, helps consolidate short-term memory.

In my mind, finals are the relatively easy part. The projects, papers, and homework crammed into the last week of classes are the real stressful parts. Studying someone else’s notes is not nearly as demanding as sketching portfolios or writing programs from scratch. So knock down those projects and the hardest part is over. But, whatever you do, don’t lose focus. Keep up what you’re doing and you’ll get the grade you deserve.

Stay sharp, but relax. You’re almost there. Soon, you’ll enjoy the best part of finals — when they’re finally over.