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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

The cycle of finals

Published: December 7, 2012
Section: Opinions

Sometimes finals go better than expected. Sometimes they remind us that classes can be torture. Sometimes they appear in the form of papers due during finals period and sometimes they are papers due before classes even finish.

I’m not about to complain about homework—I’ve already done that—and plenty of other writers have written columns about managing coursework and finals. But it should never come to the point in a semester where more than half of my finals are due before the finals period begins.

Honestly, my finals schedule is not as brutal as in prior semesters. I have one exam, one extensive paper and one group project involving a presentation and a paper. Last spring, I had to start working on finals during spring break; I wrote an average of 1.5 pages per day, every day through finals.

Since the week before Thanksgiving, I’ve been churning through books almost constantly. Over the Thanksgiving break, I often tore myself away from friends and family in order to get enough work done. Flights to and from Boston, accounting for three hours each way, served as great chances to pour through books and prepare to write papers when I got back to Brandeis.

Many professors and peers make a point about the importance of time management as it is a student’s responsibility to manage time properly. That said, there are only 24 hours in a day and some of those hours must be dedicated to sleep or rest. While plenty of students have pulled all-nighters, it simply should not be a necessity.

Before finals period, it’s hard enough to catch up on readings and problem sets and write all of the papers assigned for classes that don’t serve as final projects.

When a single paper is worth more than 25 percent of a grade, it automatically warrants a large share of attention and work. Assigning these papers with due dates before finals begins fundamentally hinders the ability to produce a high quality paper. By having papers due during finals, students have the time to work on them properly. Granted, during finals, papers compete with exams and other assignments, but that is also true before finals begin. A key difference is that before finals there’s the added time constraint of classes, regular assignments and club activities. When assignments pile up, club participation is one of the first things to go.

I can understand easily enough that professors hope their students will consider their class as the highest priority. If I ever were to teach a class, I’d definitely want students to take the class seriously and consider it a priority. Yet, a standard semester at Brandeis involves four classes and possibly a lab if one is a science class. I trust that in most classes I’ve taken, professors have been aware that students have demanding workloads from other classes. But on rare occasions professors have assigned 10-page papers with a particularly small window of time to complete them.

As I write this, I’ve managed to get a good handle on the papers and presentations I’ll have to finish in the coming days. Unfortunately, I have only managed this by postponing another important set of deadlines—graduate school applications.

Even with those sent, my homework forecast still shows high chances of spending winter break, including a trip to Florida to celebrate my grandparents’ 50th anniversary, churning out essays for various schools. Graduate school and job applications are not inherently something that every student deals with in a given semester, but it all ties back to finals.

If finals, whether they are in the form of exams, group projects, or term papers ranging from 10 to 20 pages, were—as a rule—never due until after the last day of classes, it would not only benefit students who struggle with time management, but it would also benefit students who are already adept at such skills.

At least once in my time at Brandeis, I neglected to keep up with the weekly readings for a class because I was spending the time writing a term paper for another class. Instead of reviewing for the class during finals, I found myself simply catching up by the time finals actually started.

Sometimes one class becomes a higher priority than another, and whether it’s because of a major, minor or university requirement, it happens. Unfortunately, it’s never a comfortable feeling to know that because one or two classes assign pre-finals finals, I might have to fall back in other classes and hope to catch up by the end.

Not counting the possibility of finals after Brandeis, It’s my penultimate series of finals. At least by now I’ve developed a basic routine for handling the work that hasn’t led me wrong. The key is to stick with it even when finals before finals period try to throw you off.