By Reyna Estrada
The end of the semester is one of the busiest times for college students. With final exams right around the corner, students may struggle to keep their grades up and end the academic year as well as they had hoped.
Sarah Maria Rutter, an academic advisor and program administrator for the honors program, said that new college students may be used to the “high stake testing with an emphasis on grades,” that is often apparent in high school. She said that it’s important to shift the way they view final exams.
“Typically, final exams, in the most general structure, are kind of the cumulative evidence of your investment in the course,” Rutter said. “If you haven’t been investing in the course, at midterm and at final you might have to scramble to understand achievement, but really what is best is to see, always, your exams as a way to represent the work you’ve been doing consistently throughout the course.”
The typical format of final exams have been changing in recent times. According to a 2019 article published on “Teaching Monster” take-home essay exams or projects have becoming more and more common. Rutter argues that this type of exam may be a better representation of the students abilities.
“Based on my experience as a teacher and as somebody who has trained teachers, typically, the mastery driven tests with some writing don’t necessarily do much except reproduce what the professor tends to privilege,” Rutter said.
Take-home or project-based exams may benefit certain majors over others. Sophomore English and sociology major Rane Kenny said, “I am an English major, so essays/creative projects are the most ideal for me. I can best show my learning through that.”
Additionally, some students prefer project-based exams for other reasons. Mariana Patino, first-year psychology major said, “I honestly prefer a project as a final because it’s less structured. I would say I do prepare differently. I like how I don’t have to go through hours of studying. Instead I split up my time to complete every aspect of the project.”
Regardless of the type of final, Rutter encouraged students to start preparing early. “The best way I think to prepare for an exam is from the very beginning to be very familiar with the syllabus, and also using a planner or a calendar,” Rutter said. “Everybody is going to have to cram, that’s just the way it is. Very few people are fully prepared ahead of time, but if you think about, ‘what availability do I have ahead of time’ and ‘how do I start scheduling that….’ I think it gives you, as the student, a good gauge of when you should start studying.”
Kenny advised other students to practice organization skills while preparing for exams. “Make a list of what needs to get done. Write down every due date. Pace out what needs to get done over the last few weeks also considering other commitments. Maybe you have a few papers and studying to do. Pace it all out,” Kenny said.
Patino said, “My tip for finishing strong is to go to class and take notes on what the professors are looking for in the finals. If you’re doubting your grade, ask for extra credit or make up missing assignments if you’re allowed to do so.”
In addition to maintaining good time management skills, it is important to not to become isolated during finals week, especially as the end of the semester nears and students prepare to say goodbye to their friends for the summer. Rutter said, “Try to couple your commitment to studying with another healthier good habit or a reward of some kind so that you are imagining that just studying for exams the final two weeks doesn’t happen in isolation from other practices or habits you have in your life.”