Oberlin Blogs

My Hot Take on Finals

December 28, 2023

Natalie Frank ’26

There is a lot of advice on finals out there. Eat well. Sleep 9+ hours a night. Study for your tests, but don’t cram unless you must. Hide a dictionary under your pillow, exercise, etc., etc. I can confidently say I tried most of it in my first year. 

But finals at Oberlin is another beast entirely. The combination of 

flu season + Mudd Library + Astronomy and Economics finals + 4,000-word Muslim Oral Cultures research paper + essay exam

did not equal something pretty. When I stumbled off of the Amtrak for home on December 22nd, I was battered, bruised, and burnt out. I had tried it all – eating, destressing, sleeping, and yet I felt like I failed finals season.

When it came to my second year, I was determined to turn this around by any means necessary, even if it meant defying all of the advice I followed my first year. Let’s dive into Natalie’s Comprehensive and Unconventional Guide for Surviving (and Thriving) in Finals Season. Whew.

Get sick two weeks before finals season.

In my first year, my roommate got the flu during the reading period, a four-day opportunity to study for finals and complete assignments before exams began. Because we were sleeping in the same room, and come on, everyone had the flu in ’22, I contracted it during exam time. This did not work well. Before my Astronomy exam in a lecture hall of 80 people, I swallowed five cough drops and stuffed tissues into my pockets. In between Nyquil naps and Emergen-C packets (does preventative medicine work if you have the flu?), I took my Economics final and wrote a paper that landed me in a writing slump.

This year, something had to change. During the last week of classes, I was knocked out by some mysterious respiratory illness going around campus. Because I had attended every one of my classes this year, I could afford to skip a few (cough, cough, seven). While it sucked to miss classes and sniffle alone in bed, when it came to finals season, my immune system had built up a wall. Nothing could touch me – not COVID, that weird stomach bug, or even the flu. 

Get some Vitamin D.

Mudd is notoriously bad for this. I spent my entire first-year finals season in Mudd Center, and I suffered for it. There’s a whole group of people who practically live in Mudd. They hiss when sunlight touches their skin, they are allergic to garlic, and they stare at your neck a little too long– or maybe they are just nocturnal. Either way, seeing the sun at least once during your finals season is essential. In Ohio in December, the sun only comes out for nine-ish hours, and it is vital to take advantage of those. If you don’t have time for a crisp walk around North Quad, I recommend choosing a window seat in the Science Library. Sure, everyone will judge you for scrolling on Instagram as they pass on their nature walk, but at least you’ll get some Vitamin D while doing it.

Attend the Hot Cocoa Marshmallow Decorate Your Own Cookies Destressing and Finals Season Socials.

I work in Career Exploration and Development, and my boss, Kristin, loves organizing our annual Hot Cocoa and Cookies Social. In the basement of Mudd, we offered fresh popcorn (from a popcorn machine!), cookie decorating, live string music, gluten-free and vegan treats, candy, and conversation. There are many of these events around campus during finals week. Most departments want to go out with a bang before being student-less for a few weeks. Besides, what better way to prepare for finals than to overdose on sugar?

Set boundaries with the people you are close with.

Maintaining healthy friendships and relationships with your loved ones during finals season can be overwhelming. If you celebrate a gift-giving holiday, you must also remember to purchase gifts! For this list item, set boundaries with your loved ones. Acknowledge that you may be a poor communicator this week. Apologize to your roommate for eating her emergency chocolate. Ask your friends if you can rant about how awful group members can be. Your friends won’t mind.

Celebrate Hanukkah if you observe.

Hanukkah has fallen over finals season for the past two years. For a little Jewish girl who loves celebrating it with her family at home, lighting my metal menorah in my dorm room can feel lonely. To fight this, I threw myself into every Chanukkah celebration this year, from honey bottling at Hillel to the Hanukkah party at J-House to donut competitions at Chabad. I celebrated Hanukkah with a different friend or group every night. Even during finals week, it’s essential to have community.

Go on an adventure with your friends.

This year, I picked up two friends, and we drove to Five Guys to drown our stress in oil and peanuts. There’s nothing like a good dose of fast food therapy to fix you up.

Don’t forget to call home at least once to remind them you are alive.

I skipped my weekly family call to study during finals week. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the time to call my siblings or parents, but I sent my mom a few postcards. Sure, my postcards lamented the doom of my existence and how my Python code wouldn’t run, but I’m sure she appreciated them. A good old “I’m alive!” text assures your family that you’re still fighting and kicking during finals season. They’ll have you home soon enough.

Watch a movie. Forget about finals for 142 minutes of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.

I know it’s tempting to clutch your pearls at the idea of wasting entire minutes on something that doesn’t rhyme with bexams or bapers, but movies can have a positive emotional impact. If you’re looking to kick two of these list items out of the way, watch a movie with your friends.

Attend a comedy improv show.

Many student organizations host performances during the reading period or the week before. My friend Ruby was performing in a comedy improv show. I prepared myself for an awkward hour of jokes, but instead, I left with my eyeliner running down my cheeks from laughter. Find places that will make you laugh. They will remind you that there is joy in this world.

It’s okay to say, “Blegh, this sucks,” and just do it.

I sat before my computer on Sunday afternoon and stared at my portfolio. It wasn’t writing itself. Aren’t assignments supposed to do that? 

I reassured myself that this was just a sucky situation. I was burnt out, tired, and hungry. I deserved a gift card or massage or something sugary, but instead, I was writing about my intellectual and professional journey as an artist. It is okay to acknowledge that the situation isn’t fantastic and do it anyway.

But most of all, know that you are an excellent student no matter how hard finals are, and no one is meant to thrive during finals. You’re doing great.

Note: After all of this, you are wondering if I had finals at all. I had a Computer Science project, a Psychology paper, a 5,000-word portfolio, a 5,000-word cumulative response paper, and a 40-page script. I promise that it is possible to stay alive during finals week.

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