November is a foreboding month for college students as term papers, presentations, and final exams loom just around the corner. The brief respite of Thanksgiving break often isn’t enough to curtail the campus-wide increase in stress and anxiety as the dreaded final week of the semester approaches. For many it means the realization that paying attention in class and doing the homework is actually necessary—a lesson that, when learned the hard way, is difficult to recover from.

This period of mental strain tends to prompt the existential questioning of the necessity of finals. Ideally, students are self-motivated enough to want to learn for the sake of learning and not because their GPAs are at stake. Unfortunately, given the immense amount of work, the wide variety of required classes, and time commitments outside the classroom that most Centre students face, it is much less likely for a student to complete all assignments without some form of accountability.

An argument can be made that final exams are not necessarily an accurate representation of a student’s knowledge of material, as many factors can cause test results to vary, such as stress levels, illness, mental states, lack of sleep, etc. However, there is no way to remove these variables, both in the cases of final exams and everyday life. Therefore, some form of affirmation that the student put in the time and effort to retain the information taught in the class is necessary, despite the fact that this assessment may not be impervious to outside influences.

Photographer: Justin Anderson

Photographer: Justin Anderson

Because of this reality, it is far more beneficial for students to focus their energy on changing their outlooks on finals as opposed to dreading them and questioning their validity. As Stodghill Professor of Religion and College Chaplain Dr. Rick Axtell prefers to refer to them, tests and quizzes are actually “celebrations of learning.” Centre College offers a unique opportunity to study a wide range of fascinating and informative topics; to neglect this opportunity by not doing one’s best to learn the material being offered is to ignore the purpose of being a student. Final exams present a way to reflect on the hard work and the knowledge acquired over the semester and ensure that this knowledge is retained after the course has ended.

“It is important not to separate finals from the learning process. By keeping finals in mind throughout the semester, the material is committed to memory and all that is necessary is basic review. This helps avoid the stress and ineffectiveness of cramming,” Associate Professor of Education Dr. Sarah Murray said. “If we weren’t asked to recall or talk about what we learned, there wouldn’t be any benchmark.”

According to the book Make it Stick: The Science of Successful Learning, recommended by Dr. Murray, the best way to save oneself from the stress of cramming for finals week is to put in just a bit more time when initially learning the material to practice retrieval. Simply re-reading has been proven an unproductive means of studying; by taking a few extra minutes to quiz oneself and actually recall material, information is much more readily available and the likelihood of forgetting what was learned decreases immensely.

Finals don’t have to be a black hole of anxiety; with solid preparation and a positive outlook, finals can be a source of pride for students as they are confident in the knowledge they acquired throughout the semester. Whenever stress starts to take hold, it is important to stop and remind oneself of what a privilege it is to be able to learn and to have the opportunity to take finals. While it may seem stressful and pointless in the moment, remembering what was learned in college later on in life will be worth the time and effort put in now.

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