Finals: two syllables that inspire fear and terror in the souls of students at the College of William and Mary.
Sometimes, we meet finals with an unhealthy mindset, becoming so overwhelmed that we are reduced to puddles of anxiety. Motivated by a fear of failure, we commit ourselves to inhuman marathons of flashcard making and memorization, convincing ourselves that if we devote ourselves exclusively to studying, we will feel more prepared.
But this kind of mentality does more damage than good.
I learned this the hard way my freshman year. I (shamefully) confess that I helped institute the “no sleeping overnight in study rooms” policy now enforced by Earl Gregg Swem Library. Armed with fleece blankets, flashcards, and even my toothbrush, I felt destined for surefire success. What could be a better exam preparation regimen than committing to do nothing but study (and live, essentially) in a library?
I was wrong.
Throughout finals week, I did not feel prepared. Instead, I felt groggy, despairing and quite miserable. Honestly, I did not feel human — more like a zombie that couldn’t remember its Russian case endings (or much else).
That year, I learned that no matter how determined you are, you are not a robot who can study more or less nonstop and go into the exam feeling alert and fully knowledgeable.
Finals are like a dance recital, a theatrical performance or athletic event. They are a culmination of your hard work and sustained efforts. Even by doing a few readings or attending only some lectures, you have somehow been preparing for this moment all semester. You are in the last stage of intense preparation, the dress rehearsal of the performance, the last workout before your big meet. The truth is, you have been preparing for months before now. You know more than what you are reviewing in this last stretch.
Please do not deprive yourself of adequate nutrition, good sleep (read: not on a library floor), human interaction and overall mental health. What you sacrifice in the “overall wellness” department cannot be transferred over to the “feeling prepared” department. Being ready for an exam is about more than knowing the information; it is about being in the right physical and mental state to perform well.
Remember: Your exam grades may not accurately reflect your knowledge or efforts. Like forgetting your lines on opening night even after many excellent rehearsals, the time that seems to matter most is sometimes not what you had hoped. And that is incredibly frustrating.
But these will not be your only grades here. And even if they were, grades are just one (sometimes, not the most accurate) way to measure what you’ve learned. I often wish we could focus more on the incalculable markers of accomplishment as sources of pride, such as personal growth, dedication, discipline, perseverance and work ethic, regardless of the outcome. These will serve us in the real world.
If you feel discouraged, just remember how sweet it will be to get that bouquet of roses thrown onstage at your performance’s end by two of your biggest encouragers, winter break and freedom.
Email Andrea Aron-Schiavone at firstname.lastname@example.org.