The Question: How bad are finals, really?


Welcome to The Question, where you’ll get answers about life at Brown all year long! I’m Celina Stewart, and I’ll be bringing you insights (and photos!) into my fourth year at Brown and my answers to some of the questions I wish I’d asked before college. 

For those of you keeping track of the semester, you know that we’re almost done with fall 2015! This is my last full week of classes, and next week Brown heads into Reading Period, which usually is at least a week of “study time” before any exams are due. Because this semester was weirdly short (no one is complaining) my first three exams are due next Friday, and the remaining two early the following week. So, as this is my 7th time heading into exams, I wanted to answer a question I’m sure you’re all wondering: How bad are finals, really?

The short answer is that it depends on the types of classes you’re taking, and also how good you are at those courses. I have friends who calculate the minimum number of points they need to get an A, and if its less than 70, they opt to spend more time with Netflix than the textbook (heck, if its over 70 they usually opt for Netflix, too!).

But on a serious note, final exams, if you’ve been paying attention in class and keeping up with your work, shouldn’t be bad at all. The great thing is that different courses have totally different styles of final exams.

For me, exams this semester take the form of a significant amount of paper writing. For my thesis, I have two chapters due, totaling around 65 pages of research. The good news is, I’ve been working on those chapters the whole semester, so now that it is the end of the semester, all I have to do is a final edit session, and I’ll be good to go.

For my History course on Latin American film, I have to write a 10-12 page research paper on a topic related to the course. For my other History course, I have to write 2, 4-page essays using only materials from the class, due a week after I received the prompt (I love those types of exams). These are pretty typical final exam structures for History and other “liberal arts” courses.

My other two classes have slightly different approaches: my Religious Studies final requires 4, 2-page responses to a take home exam questionnaire, using only materials from class. This is less appealing to me than the History essays, as 2 page responses require you to read and think about many more topics as you’re writing, but less in depth.

The most interesting exam I have, by far, is for my International Relations seminar, which is called “Reading Fiction.” Over the course of the semester, we’ve read 13 novels, each related to topics of International Relations in some way. Our final exam is very creative- to create a reading list and suggestions of fiction titles on a topic of our choice. Unlike a traditional essay, it is essentially all thinking about which novels best discuss the topic of your choice, and then making a descriptive list of them. My list is on representations of gender and LGBTI+ experiences in diaspora, using books from around the world. One of my friends is doing hers on stories of Chinese migrant families in rural China – it is totally up to our interests.

Some tips for getting through finals period while maintaining your health and even having some fun on weekends?

  • Prioritize! I keep my calendar full of reminders to complete certain amounts of certain exams as I go, usually over budgeting time to make myself feel great if I finish something early. Think about due dates – should you be doing the exam due December 18 when you have one due December 11? Depends on how much time the two will take, and if you need to be working on both at the same time.
  • Take time to eat well. This may be because I’m Italian, but when you’re well fed, you’re happy and thinking well.
  • Work out! I’ve definitely been seen on the elliptical with class notes and readings. It’s way more common than you’d expect, gets your heart going, and you’ll feel like you’ve accomplished more.
  • Get help if you need it! Not only are professors always willing to meet with you and discuss a path for succeeding in their class, but resources like the Writing Center, CAPS, and programs by RPLs and the Deans of the College can help you manage stress, figure out scheduling, and reassure you that you are not alone.
  • Sleep. Seriously, all nighters are not, and have never been, worth it. They are a sign that you don’t know how to respect yourself and your time, not to mention, your work will suffer. Refresh yourself, even if just for a couple hours each night.

Want more photos and FAQ updates? Check out @thebruinclub on Twitter! Have questions or comments for me? Want more details?  Send an email to and I’ll get back ASAP!


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