I never told anybody, but I secretly loved finals week my first year at UNC.
After a semester spent wondering whether I was doing college right, it was a relief to know the answer had been reduced to a simple directive: Study hard, and pass a test. “OK,” I thought. “I can do that.”
My appreciation for finals didn’t go away after that, either. They make me feel studious and thoughtful like I always imagined my college self would often feel.
There’s something undeniably cozy about sitting silently in solidarity with one’s fellow students, emerging from hoodies and removing headphones at regular intervals to get coffee refills at Alpine.
Everything becomes so much simpler during finals week. When non-school obligations clear their throats and tap us on the shoulder, the gravitas of final exams helps us feel perfectly justified in brushing them off. “It’s finals week, dammit,” we snap. “Can’t you see I’m studying here?”
But I write this with some melancholy. I am no longer invested enough in my academic success (Kidding, Mom!) to feel the finals spirit as fully as I used to.
As I walk through Davis Library today, I feel like an older brother who exchanges knowing looks with his parents while his younger siblings rumble downstairs on Christmas morning to see what Santa has brought them.
Yet this is no ode to finals week. Like the ingredients of a delicious cake, everything that makes finals great also makes them dangerous in excess. The single-mindedness with which we devote ourselves to these tests and papers has the potential to quickly devolve into unhealthy obsession.
You’ve probably seen lots of listicles this week preaching best practices for stress management.
Take lots of little breaks, reward yourself, get plenty of sleep. Do all of those things. Your emotional well-being during this trying time is more important than anything.
But I’ve found the best way to guard against the worst of exam stress is to enthusiastically — and, yes, perhaps a little ironically — embrace everything that makes finals week so awful. Have fun with it.
Break out the sweatpants and slippers, or grow yourself a silly finals beard. Drink too much coffee, even if you’re with me in thinking it tastes like dirt.
Buy lots of unnecessary office supplies and make flashcards because that’s what the good students did all semester, and you suspect they might be on to something.
Recall Harry Potter and the boggart, and apply Remus Lupin’s teachings: The only thing that can truly defeat the existential crises that accompany such high stakes is to laugh in their face.
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