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Finals survival guide

December 14, 2010

Patrick Doherty ’11

Finals are the dreaded time of year where we are tested, quizzed, and...paper(ed?) on the knowledge that we've obtained in our classes throughout the semester. Over the last few years I've come to realize that no one likes finals. As students, finals cause an inordinate amount of stress, sleep deprivation, and the ultimate feeling that we probably should have worked harder throughout the semester. I've gotten the impression that several of my professors also don't like finals. There is, after all, no way to really gauge if someone has learned all of the material for a class. Then, of course, they have to grade finals. That's no fun.

I've had some wonderful and some terrible experiences with finals. I've taken finals with strep and mono (here's a hint: don't ignore illness just because you think you're too busy to go to student health...it usually doesn't turn out well). Some of my professors have assigned some really fun projects for finals, rather than making us take tests or write papers. For example, for my Social History of European Consumerism class, we had to catalogue EVERYTHING in our dorm rooms and analyze our own consumption habits. This led to me having a list of over 100 books that I had acquired in 4 semesters (I really, really like to read and love to keep fascinating books), among other things.

As a history major, the vast majority of my finals tend to be papers on a topic of my choice. You'd think that this would make my life easier. I'm not constrained by two hours in a classroom, I have notes, books, and other materials that I can reference, and writing papers on a topic of my choice is fun. But when all four of my classes are social sciences and they all have papers, this inevitably leads to me writing papers the night before they are due. My ability to write quickly is ridiculous. There have been times where I have pumped out an 8-page paper in under two hours.

Side note: My finals are super low-key this semester. The advantage of being an honors student is that my honors research counts as the same amount of credits as a class AND it doesn't have a final. I only have two finals this semester: A paper (7-9 pages) and a two-hour accounting final. Super chill. I'm pumped.

There are several things that help me survive finals. Here's a list of my key essentials for making it through finals week:

Crazy Schedules: I always make a schedule of what needs to be done by when. Then I try to create a plan of when I'll do which final. This never works, yet I refuse to give up on it. One day I'll be able to finish my paper in the 4 hours that I set aside for it on Thursday afternoon without getting distracted...I promise!

At one point in the semester, what my schedule looked like. Resigning from Senate made my life a lot easier.


A Badass Playlist: A badass playlist is essential to surviving any finals week. For paper-writing, I prefer pop music. There's nothing like listening to "Just Dance" on repeat to get up the energy to pump out the last few pages of a paper. Recently I've heavily favored covers from Glee while rating papers. Some of my recent favorites are "River Deep, Mountain High," "Hey, Soul Sister", and "Teenage Dream." For finals during fall semester, I definitely bust out the Christmas music. I may or may not have over 14 hours of Christmas music in my iTunes library....

My current playlist to survive finals. Judge all you want. I think it's perfection.


Study locations: Many people like to hide away in their one corner of the library and do all their studying there. I can't do that. I need variety. I also love unconventional study locations. Instead of spending hours upon hours in Mudd, I'll spend a few hours in Wilder (which has studying spaces on the 2nd and 3rd floors), a few hours in the basement of Burton (they added study rooms when they renovated this dorm), a few hours in my room (accompanied by more Netflix-watching than actual studying), and, at night, a few hours in King (the main humanities/social sciences building). I work better if I vary locations because then I don't feel trapped and it helps force me to take breaks when I move from building to building.

Freshman year in a corner of Mudd. Clearly I was being very productive.


Study breaks: Speaking of breaks....study breaks are SO important. Luckily, Oberlin has a whole bunch of awesome study breaks that happen every year during reading period. In fact, there are often so many available that you could probably completely avoid studying if you were to attend every single one. The Center for Leadership in Health Promotion does a whole bunch of activities, from cheap massages for relaxation to one-song dance breaks in Mudd (Shake it, Don't Break It). This year, Active Minds is sponsoring what we're calling "Story time study breaks." Our members are going to be in different locations around campus and take turns reading our favorite childhood stories to anyone who wants to come listen. They're short breaks and we figured it would be fun to relive our favorite childhood memories through these stories.

Sleep: Don't underestimate the powers of a good night's sleep. I do my best work when I'm well rested. I'm pretty sure this goes for most people. Sometimes I just have to put a paper away for a night and sleep for a good, solid 8 hours. There are studies that suggest that 8 hours of sleep per night helps increase academic performance of students. Also, being awake for 17 hours straight is equivalent to having the blood alcohol content of 0.05%. Put the book down and go to bed. It took me three full years and a serious case of mono to learn this lesson, but I've been trying to maintain good sleeping habits throughout this semester and I've had the best semester of my college career because of it. SLEEP.

Caffeine: Even though sleep is ideal, sometimes you have to stay up late to finish that last final. Sometimes your sleep deprivation from earlier in the semester catches up to you during reading period. The solution? Caffeine. I've never been a big fan of coffee, so my caffeine solution is usually tea. Tea, in my opinion, tastes better. Don't use your caffeine source to get through the week if you don't need it, but a quick pick-me-up can always be helpful.

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