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March 2, 2019

The Toll of Our Endless Finals Week

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Ted Davis / The Chicago Maroon

As I was pouring over my planner booking my flight home for spring break, I was surprised to discover that I could leave campus on Thursday morning of reading period without missing any exams or meetings. I was initially excited to have an extra few days of spring break, but the dawn of eighth week has made me realize I may have been too optimistic about this seemingly relaxed schedule. 

My finals schedule this term is as follows: I have a presentation on the Monday of 10th week, an in-class exam on the Wednesday of 10th week, papers due on the Saturday, Sunday and Monday before finals week, and yet another paper due the first Saturday of spring break (several of my classes have multiple assessments). Of my six final assessments, only one is due after the Monday of finals week. As I begin to plan my studying timeline, I fear the rest of this quarter will be absolute hell.  

While having papers instead of exams isn’t common for all students, especially those studying STEM subjects, my situation this quarter is not exceptional or unique. All students take writing classes as part of the Core, and most of my friends are taking at least one or two courses requiring final papers. Professors often assign early due dates for papers so we can “get them turned in and over with,” ostensibly allowing us to “focus on the rest of our finals later in the week.” For humanities students, this often leads to a front-loaded schedule that collapses the last weeks of the quarter into a stressful, premature exam period. Of course, humanities professors often need to set early deadlines in order to read long papers before submitting grades online. However, setting deadlines before exam period seems to undermine the purpose of reading period and finals week altogether. 

In that regard, it seems like this problem affects humanities majors to a larger degree than STEM majors, whose exams are all scheduled by the University. I do not mean to suggest that STEM majors have it any easier than me, as there is nothing preventing an equally front-loaded testing schedule. Yet, for those who will be producing bodies of written work, unregulated early deadlines can eliminate the distinction between 10th week and finals week altogether, as I am experiencing this quarter. 

Ultimately, I know I will make it through the next month despite all these early deadlines. But, our ten-week quarters feel short enough already, jam-packed with midterms until mid-eighth week; collapsing exams into this hectic schedule doesn’t seem like an ideal use of time. Students forced to work under this kind of “exam” schedule face unique obstacles in their preparations and may not produce papers reflecting the best of their abilities. I’m sure that if I truly find myself in a bind, my professors would be understanding and grant me an extension, but we shouldn’t have to rely on this kindness to be able to pass a class to begin with. Reading period should exist as a time devoted to studying for exams—not recovering from them. And finals week is meant for taking exams and writing papers, not an extra week of break. 

If this problem is one rooted in strict grading deadlines for professors, perhaps those should be loosened in order to give students the full week to work on final assignments. But I believe the problem is rooted in good intentions: professors want to help us do our best, yet perhaps don’t know how. As a solution, professors who assign essays as finals could hold a vote at the beginning of the quarter to determine a deadline that works best for the class. Maybe deadlines for papers could be set by the University registrar by course time in the same manner final exam schedules are determined. This would ensure that all students have a fair and equal chance to turn in the finest work possible. 

Regardless, professors and administrators should know that the lack of streamlined standards for final essay deadlines isn’t liberating for stressed-out students. It’s just another burden, and I’m not sure that a few more days of spring break is worth the intense stress that comes with the coalescence of 10th week and finals week. 

Alexa Perlmutter is a second-year in the College and an associate Viewpoints Editor.

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