Finals week is upon us, and stress is in the air. Nights in Powell and YRL feel a lot like massive sleepovers — except instead of fun, they are filled with deep regret and self-doubt. Around this time last quarter, I swore: I would not find myself spending another night in the library catching up on five weeks worth of work, alternating between Netflix and calculating the lowest possible grade I can get to pass the class (then sleeping two hours before taking a final where I inevitably black out on the material I crammed with a barely functioning brain). The anxiety and self-loathing are just not worth it. So not worth it, in fact, that I preferred to step my weekly workload up a few notches and plan ahead to avoid a nightmarish finals week from which I could only hope to escape with an ounce of dignity. I’m sharing my list in the hopes that you, Ha’Am reader, can learn from my mistakes. Here’s what I did this quarter:
1. I went to class. And paid attention.
Last quarter I recorded every lecture of my history class. The logic: record class, so I can listen to it later, allowing me to concentrate on other more important things while I’m there (homework for another class, Facebook, napping). My genius plan supplied me with every important fact I needed to know for my final papers in a convenient set of 20 hour-and-a-half-long files on my phone.
In this scenario I like to think of the wonderful John Wooden quote (which I first read on the wall at Trader Joe’s, on a late wine run during a mid-finals mental breakdown): “If you don’t have time to do it right, when will you have time to do it over?”
Truly, if I am already waking up, getting dressed and mentally prepared to take on the day, why not seize the opportunity to interact with and learn from a professor I chose, on a topic that interests me?
2. I got organized.
I got one big notebook for all my classes. All my notes are in the same place, including my calendar and infinite to-do lists. I officially parted from the piles of “don’t forget” post-its in my backpack and pockets; no longer would I be taking notes on my laptop, the back of pamphlets, or in my head (“I’ll remember it, for sure”). And this may not be for everybody, but having everything together really helped me keep my thoughts together as well.
Now it could be argued that a laptop or tablet would be more convenient — you can type faster, easily access material, and multitask. But if you look at anyone’s screen in a big lecture hall at any point in time, I would be willing to put money on it that there is at least one active tab with Facebook, Tumblr or iMessage. This creates a situation where multitaskers get a feeling they are accomplishing something, but end up typing mindlessly while scrolling through their frenemy’s selfies.
3. I stopped watching Netflix.
That’s a lie. Netflix is great, in serious moderation. But I recognized that when I start a show I like, it’s almost physically impossible to withdraw from the screen until my eyes forcibly close, and I pass out somewhere between the couch and my bed. There’s no real happy medium there, at least not for me. I can entertain myself with a comedy skit or a good movie every so often, but shows have been historically detrimental to my health and grades. So instead of watching this House of Cards everyone is talking about, I made a commitment to shamelessly binge on it over spring break.
4. I got a job.
Many students who can afford to go to school full time without having to work wouldn’t. Surely there is less stress when you can afford to concentrate wholly on your assignments after class and not have to rush to a five-hour shift waiting tables.
Well, maybe less stress in theory. I found out that when I had no other obligations except academics, I spent 300% more time procrastinating (rough estimate) than I do now that I have a job. When I had five free hours to complete a 30-minute assignment, I left it to the last 15. “I have all day to do this,” I said. “I’ll get it done right after this episode,” I said. A season, later I’m in debt 3 hours of sleep and have not yet opened a Word document.
5. I stopped worrying about grades.
Yes, GPA is important. But grades are not everything. I don’t know about you, but besides being a student who aims to go to grad school, I’m also a person who genuinely enjoys learning and reading. Unfortunately, I get little to no down time for fun reading, so I decided to find enjoyment in my assigned reading. Sure, not all are my cup of tea. But I find pleasure in even just reading a text and admitting that it completely bores me, or bothers me, or needs editing here and there. At the very worst, I’m interacting with it. At the very best, I’m thinking critically through my own lens, and earning brownie points from the teacher for the next lecture.
And if you think about it, worrying about grades does little to absolutely nothing for your success. In most classes, you get graded based on the quality of your content, or mastery of material, not how many times you repeat “no, you don’t get it, I literally HAVE to get an A.” Stressing about getting an A is only positive if you actually conceptualize what is needed in order to get an A, plan ahead, and do it. And then — when you get your grade — trust that no one cares enough to be out to get you, and that you more or less got the grade you deserved. Complaining and crying about not getting what you want (or worst, incessantly bugging your TAs and professors about it) is getting you nowhere in class — or life, for that matter. Instead, accept the mediocre fruits of your labor and improve.
There are many more, but in the effort of saving face and keeping mine and your procrastination to a minimum, I’ll cut to the credits and say: you got this. Even if you think you don’t, even if you swear you’re “literally gonna fail everything,” you got this. You’re a Bruin.
Log off social media (the friends you don’t talk to in real life will be there when you’re done). Never substitute a needed hour of sleep for cramming. And finally, do the best you can. Accept the very difficult first world problem that is finals week as a chance to reflect on the way you do things, and how you can do them better next time around. Good luck!