Oberlin Blogs

Many Different Flavors of Finals

March 28, 2022

Ricarda Hill ’24

I asked four other students to reflect on last semester’s finals period, which was a bit strange and different from our normal schedule since most exams were remote. Luckily, from now on, the college will return to its usual finals period schedule with a mixture of in-person and take-home finals options, depending on the class and the professor (and barring a serious nationwide or regional COVID outbreak that other colleges will have to respond to as well). Hopefully, this blog post will provide some insight into what kinds of finals there are in college and how different students prefer to balance out their course load and finals schedule. Many thanks to all of the students who were kind enough to share their experiences!



I’m a computer science major and took a lot of STEM classes my first year, so my classes tend to have exams or projects. This fall, I had three exams and one group project. When I pick my classes, I don’t really think about the final exam, paper or project, I usually take a class based on if I’m interested in the class content or if I need the class for my major. I’ve never ended up with four finals of one type, because I’ve always chosen to take a balance of STEM and humanities classes. It seems to me that STEM classes tend to have exams or projects, and humanities classes tend to have papers or projects.  

I think the type of final I prefer is probably an exam, because the projects I’ve done tend to be group projects and that can be hard to coordinate. With final papers, I always feel like the paper could be better and there’s more to edit. I will say that projects can be nice because they allow you to be creative and apply what you have learned from a class. 

I do think that studying for exams and taking them can be stressful, especially if you end up having two exams in one day. I think it would be nice if students didn’t have to take more than one exam a day; in other words, maybe we could self-schedule our exams. My sister did that at the college she attended.

Another way I think professors could help with making exams less stressful is that my math professor let us have a sheet of paper to reference when we took our exam. It’s also important to note at Oberlin that some of my exams were cumulative while others were not. 



I’ll be honest, this past finals season was really difficult and it was the worst I’ve had so far at Oberlin with everything being weird and online. I had a poetry final that was a portfolio of all of the work I’d done in that class which I really enjoyed, because it was truly a final product of what I’d been working on. I’m much less fond of long final papers or essays. I feel like they generally aren’t as cumulative, as they’re frequently super open-ended, which I find extremely daunting. I prefer my work to be more spaced out through the semester so that it’s not a mad dash to the finish but rather a consistent level of work and effort needed. Just doing readings for a whole semester then needing to write a long paper makes me feel really lost and unprepared.



I was in all STEM classes, so my course load wasn’t very balanced lol, but I ended up only having three finals. They were all sit-down, and I did miss having a humanities class to balance my finals schedule. Usually I can do the paper or project ahead of time, but since I wasn't in any humanities I just had to organize my studying, so I was prepared for each final. Also, I don’t know if this helps since it depends on what courses you're in, but I had one final a day, so I never had multiple finals on the same day. 

I had exams in CHEM 205, PHYS 110, and CHEM 208: Environmental Chemistry. If I had a choice, I would take a humanities class every semester, but I'm really just at the mercy of what classes are offered and what time during the day they’re offered. It's just a tight schedule, because I'm majoring in chemistry and engineering hopefully. 



I had only creative writing and literature classes (English and Comparative Lit). In all of my classes, the final exam or final assignment were papers and a revised short story in that creative writing class. For those fields, it definitely makes a lot more sense to me compared to classic exams, because you are required to work with texts and writing, and a thorough analysis and interpretation requires more background work than could be done in a regular exam.

For me personally, papers as final assignments are also much better, because I do not like the time pressure of an exam, especially when I have to write it in English, which is not my native language. The opportunity to self-organize your work and research process in the weeks leading up to the deadline is the biggest advantage of final papers for me. My work gets better when I can plan it ahead and can put in time to revise and reflect before submitting it. None of that really works in a traditional exam.

When it comes to balancing different types of final assignments for a semester, my first goal is to have as few traditional exams as possible. After that I see that there is some variation to the final papers, if possible. For example this semester, I had classic research papers in 300-level literature courses, a more interpretive paper in a 200-level literature course, and the creative writing assignment, so there there was some variation to working on the respective papers that just helped making the time and work before the end of the semester less monotonous.

As I have some experience with different fields and subjects (yes, I'm in my 5th year already), I tend to know what classes lean more in the exam direction and which are more about writing papers. For most literature classes, it's only papers. So, for me it's about finding the right balance between those literature classes as the main focus of my degree (while keeping in mind that those literature classes are usually by far the most reading-intensive), and other classes in Politics, History, etc., that are more likely to have exams (or exam-like situations), but are usually less reading-intensive throughout the semester. 



I honestly believe that the key to creating a doable finals schedule is to choose classes with different types of finals, unless you are the type of person who likes taking four final exams or writing four papers. Now, of course, this may not be possible every semester depending on your major(s) and areas of interest, but hopefully, you will know a bit more about what different finals can look like in college and what balance of assignments you may want to aim for. Good luck!

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