How to Prepare for the Finals?

As I have shared in the previous post, finals are often an unavoidable evil. This is why I want to share some advice with people who are now preparing for their finals in the hopes that these suggestions will make life at least somewhat easier for people who have to go through this ordeal.

1. The absolutely best thing you can do is allow for some time and space before you finish preparing for the exam and the exam itself. Ideally, you should get a good night’s sleep and not study for the exam at all in the morning right before it. I often see students still frantically going over their notes and leafing through textbooks as they walk into the room where the exam will be administered. This is a big mistake. Knowledge needs time to settle and be absorbed. These last-minute consultations with the notes do a lot more damage than good. Preparing for the exam is important but knowing when to stop preparing is just as crucial.

2. If your exam is in a foreign language course, the best thing you can do is get together with a native speaker of that language right before the exam and chat with them over coffee. If that is not possible, download some music in that language and listen to it on the way to the exam. Read something online in that language. All of these things will help you a lot more than any last-minute revision of verb conjugations.

3. I strongly recommend not pulling any all-nighters before the exam. Getting a good night’s sleep will allow you not to feel listless (or hopped up on caffeine) during the exam. Wake up early and do some gentle exercise. Take a walk before the exam. This will get the blood circulating in your body.

4. After you are done with an exam, do not immediately plunge into preparing for the next one. Reward yourself with some pleasing activity that will help you relax.

5. My grandfather was a doctor and he taught me the following important rule for people who do sedentary work: after every hour you spend working, get up and take a 10-minute walk. Getting up, going outside and walking around the building or down the street and up will help you be a lot more productive. If you remember to breathe deep and not think about your work as you are walking, that would be great.

If anybody has other suggestions for people who are currently preparing for the finals, please leave them in the comments. Let’s help out the students! 🙂

Finals

Fellow blogger Nominatissima requested that I write about the finals. I think that many people will find this topic relevant at this moment. Final exams are also something of a sore point with me, as people will see presently.

I hate finals. In my country, everything is always 100% about the final exams. You can never show your face in class, then ace the final exam, and get a top grade. I studied within this system for 4 years and it made me realize that the system is absolutely not conducive to any actual learning.

For the first 3 semesters I taught at my current school, I never offered finals. Then, my secret was discovered, and I caught hell. We passed a resolution at a departmental meeting that I have to give final exams in all of my courses. It was even mentioned that literature courses needed to have final exams, which I find to be very strange. Then, I got an official letter to the effect of finals being crucial and warning me that I was obligated to give them. I’m also forced to give the finals during the finals week, so scheduling them differently to ease the burden of the students who end up having 5 or 6 finals in one week is also out of the question.

So if you are a student and you think your prof is being mean by scheduling a final exam, you need to know that s/he probably doesn’t even have a choice in the matter.

I still try to make the finals as painless as possible. Usually, students come to the week of the finals completely exhausted. They simply don’t have the energy to bring their best to the final exam. I believe that it would be completely unfair to structure the grade in a way that would prevent a student who worked hard during the semester from getting an A just because the final exam was not spectacular. In all of my courses, you can fail the final but still get an A if you worked extremely hard during the entire semester.

Since I’m convinced that memorization of huge quantities of information is not a useful skill nowadays, my finals are not cumulative. I don’t want students to have any intense cramming sessions before my finals. Ideally, I don’t want them to prepare for the final at all. As I always tell them, “You can’t compete with Google.” This is why I don’t really care if my students don’t remember the year when Spain lost its last colonies. It is a lot more important that they manage to discuss why the Spanish-American war was crucial both to Spain and the United States.

It seems strange to me to grade people on how good their memory is. Some people simply have a bad memory but it says nothing about their intellectual and professional future. As a result, I construct my final exams in a way that requires no memorization and no guess work. Usually, I provide an excerpt from a text or a photo of a work of art (a building, a painting, a sculpture) and ask them to engage with it critically.

I have a feeling that many of the students would prefer to cram and then reproduce the “correct” responses during the finals. Analyzing is a lot more difficult than memorizing. But if I’m forced to offer final exams, I will at least try to make sure that they have some actual educational value to them.

In the second part of this post, I will offer advice to people who are preparing for their finals right now.