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Still Writing: Advice I never got: words of wisdom regarding finals

Published: December 9, 2011
Section: Opinions


In the next week, I have five papers and four finals to wade through, beginning today and ending next Monday night. I am only taking four classes, but somehow I wound up picking four classes that all had papers and exams at the end of the semester.

Now to be fair, I didn’t expect this even after looking at syllabi. One of my classes listed quizzes and a take-home final. In that class the final quiz is on the last day of classes and covers two-thirds of the readings and is worth around 20 percent of the grade, hardly different from an exam. A week into finals, I then have to write two three-to-four-page papers replying to two of three essay options. For another class I have an eight-page paper due Monday followed by an exam next Friday. My third class has a short paper due Wednesday and a final exam that night. My fourth and final class has a research paper due on Monday and an extensive exam next Monday night.

While I kind of knew about the work ahead of time, I did not expect one of my classes to have only two quizzes all semester and didn’t expect the second quiz to cover the final two-thirds of the readings. I did not expect one of my class’ final papers’ to be assigned right after Thanksgiving when all the previous papers were handed out with at least three weeks to write them. I did know that I’d have two extensive papers due, and that was not on its face overwhelming; having three other papers to write while also studying for finals made it overwhelming.

In all of this I noticed that there were a couple key pieces of advice that I never received in my first two years at Brandeis. The first bit was actually to look for classes with detailed syllabi. For example, one of my classes listed most of the readings organized by unit, but did not account for when each unit started or ended. I went to class every day, but it got to the point where we were being told to read two units ahead of everything we were discussing in class. After getting through everything on the syllabus the professor simply decided to add readings to the class. Never mind that when I signed up for the class, a factor in that decision was the less than lengthy list of readings.

One of the biggest things to look for is whether a course has an extensive final paper, a final exam or both. Now that may seem like a given, but it’s really not that hard to overlook when final papers are due and when exams are administered. The value of looking into the end of the semester calendar at the start of the semester becomes increasingly apparent as finals appear on the horizon.

I know that there are people who have more work than I do, and I know that I had bad luck picking four humanities classes (breakdown of three philosophy and one history). With next semester approaching, I wanted to take the chance to offer one piece of advice that I certainly would have valued getting earlier in my life at Brandeis. Don’t just look at a syllabus for how many papers you have to write or how much reading to expect per week. Actually look at the end of the semester (and this is why you should value detailed syllabi) and get a sense for how much work you’ll have to do at the end of the semester.

In the spirit of the Occupy movement, Internet jokes have recently been popping up along the lines of “1 percent of the semester controls 99 percent of the stress.” If people plan ahead and consider this when picking classes so that their work will be more evenly divided, maybe final periods won’t have to be a “hell week.”