cover image

Illustration Courtesy of Zelalem Waritu

Finding a silver lining during finals week

Some tips, reflections and reminders to help you through finals week.

Dec 12, 2021

Half-written essays, messy outlines, smudged problem sets. Lights are on until 3 a.m. and empty coffee cups accumulate on your desk. A hush falls over the Highline, with the occasional outburst of laughter, mostly a stress-induced coping mechanism at this point of the semester. Finals week is upon us, a time usually associated with being overworked, underslept and having very limited time for anything besides assignments. As a fellow student, I know the “all work, no sleep” state all too well. However, I think there is a way we can reframe this time of the semester in our minds to make it more manageable. Maybe, we can potentially even see it as — could it be — a good thing.
First, some preliminaries to get out of the way. I am not a supporter of so-called “toxic positivity”, the idea that one should stay positive regardless of how bad or challenging the circumstances are. Feeling overwhelmed, stressed or just unhappy about a situation is absolutely natural — nobody should be told that it isn’t. In some cases, though, getting through a difficult period can be easier when one reframes it in their mind. While it does not suddenly and magically make the time any less work-intensive, it can help with one’s approach to the work itself.
The first thing one might want to consider is that finals week, in addition to being the peak of exam period and major assignments, is also a culmination of what we have learned. I don’t mean this in a “memorize the entire semester’s material in one night” way. Rather, the end of term is literally the time we know most about the overarching class topics we have been exploring over four months. The readings are done, the lectures are over and the highlighted textbook pages gleam colorfully with the knowledge we have acquired. It is easy to overlook this aspect of education when we are neck-deep in work and it feels like time is running out on virtually every due date, but at the end of the day, the biggest take-aways from classes are knowledge and experience. Looking through study guides or syllabi right before exams is very stressful and reflecting on what you have learned won’t get rid of those feelings. But maybe, it will add a sense of achievement to the mix.
In addition to thinking about what one has learned in the classroom, finals week is also a good opportunity to reflect on everything else that has happened in the past semester. It is easy for us to limit our everyday lives to the essentials and thereby miss out on various social opportunities when we are overworked. However, if you look back at the entire semester, it can be surprising to see everything that you managed to achieve and experience outside of classes and assignments. These additional accomplishments can range from making progress in your hobby or extracurriculars to making new friends and appreciating old ones. While the former may help boost your CV, the latter helps you create memories that will extend far past your time on Saadiyat Island.
As a senior currently in her seventh finals week at university, I know that many people may look at this article and find its conclusions either unattainable or useless — and that’s okay. As I noted with each article in the Academics Column so far, not every approach works for everybody and I am not a professional giving advice. If this piece helps even one fellow student think about this week a little differently, my job will be done. In the meantime, best of luck on finishing the semester!
Morgane Motlik is Columns Editor. Email her at
gazelle logo