I think as I walk across the quad or out of the Student Union Building — the cold late autumn air blowing across my face, rustling what little leaves have hung onto the trees that dart Boise State’s campus — a lot of students are thinking what I’m thinking. The end of the semester is near. And while that also means the long-awaited winter break is soon as well, there is one glaring, stress-inducing pair of words that stands in all our way: finals week.
None of us are immune to the anxiety of one of the busiest weeks of the busiest time of year. However, after going through two fall semester finals weeks (one of them almost entirely online. Thanks, pandemic.), there are few things I’ve learned that can make it all go a little bit smoother.
Manage your expectations and pace yourself
One of the main things I’ve learned is that you’re not going to be able to study everything for every class in one sitting or even one day. I can remember my time as a first-year student, gung-ho and high on the adrenaline of too many cups of coffee. The rain tapped lightly against the window as I thought I was going to plop myself down at my desk and have everything memorized and all my papers written in an afternoon. As you can imagine, that was not the case. And it was no surprise that I found myself discouraged and frustrated that I didn’t hit the goal that was, as I now know, set way too high.
How can we avoid this? One word: pacing. Finals week is a sort of academic marathon, not a sprint. In the weeks leading up to that big test or paper, chip away at it! Set a timer and try to study diligently for an hour or two, remove those distractions, and then call it a day. You’re not going to be able to write a solid essay in a day (I am an English Teaching major, trust me). Maybe you try to just write one or two paragraphs a day so you have time to edit and proofread with more than enough time before the due date.
Remember that how you do on finals is only a piece of the whole pie
I can say now as someone who is going to be a teacher, my relationship with school and academics hasn’t always been healthy. There was a big period of time in my life where I found my own self-worth was centered around test scores and letter grades. I’d stress myself out to the point that not much else in life seemed fun or worth going to because I’d say, “I have a test I should really be studying for.”
I’m here to tell you a simple line that a very wise friend once told me which changed my entire perspective on how life and school should be balanced, “School is a part of your identity. School is not your entire identity.”
And what this meant for me, was it wasn’t that school and grades are unimportant —they definitely are— it’s that it’s important to remember there’s not one part of life that defines you. Whether that be school, or work, or your place in social circles…they’re all equally important components of who you are.
It’s funny, after I realized this, ironically, my grades got better and was even named scholar of the year by my Greek organization. I became less stressed and less anxious and was still able to remain committed to my passions in the classroom, all with a more nuanced perspective of the role that it played in my life.
Hopefully, this is a breath of fresh air and a reminder during a stressful time of year that we’re all students, all people, and most importantly, individuals that are far more than a point percentage.