By Cooper Drummond
Angel Sawka, a sophomore arts management major, working on a presentation for their case for the arts class (photo by Cooper Drummond)
The last week of the Fall 2022 semester has arrived at Purchase, and for many students, that means finals week.
Stress is perhaps the most pressing issue facing students during finals week. According to a study conducted by mentalhealth.net, out of the 1,000 college students surveyed, finals and midterms were the most frequent causes of self-reported stress regarding the college experience, reaching 31 percent. In comparison, graduation and future job potential was 24 percent, classes and workload were 23 percent and homework was 13 percent.
Depending on the course load, some students will have more work with traditional exams, other students will have more work with essays and other students will have more work with projects. Students have their own preferences on which assignments they'd rather do, versus the ones that make them more prone to stress.
Hayley Brennan, a sophomore psychology major, has three finals this semester. They include a traditional exam in her human anatomy class, a research project in cognitive development, and a cumulative project in Chinese art history.
However, Brennan prefers the structure of traditional exams to projects.
“You just study for it,” said Brennan. “Then, you take it once and it's done. The projects take so long to do and you have to present them. I'm just not a big fan of projects.”
The presence of these two projects has influenced Brennan's outlook on finals week. “I feel like I'm becoming less productive when I need to be more productive. The more work that I get, I don't want to do it… it's like frying my brain because it's all so much work,” she said. Brennan also said she feels “burnt out.”
Angelina Trognone, a sophomore psychology major, has two finals this semester. The first final is creating an eight-page research paper for the psychology of music, along with a presentation of that same research paper. The other final is a 1,300-word essay on the philosophies of Ancient Greece.
Trognone prefers the structure of essays and projects, unlike her friend Brennan.
“Personally, I hate exams,” said Trognone. “I don't think they're a good way of determining someone's ability to know what they've learned. I think if you're having a bad day, or even a bad week, it can show in an exam. And then you only have one shot to do that. I feel like with a project or an essay, you have time to go back and reread it as long as you give yourself time and you're not doing it last minute.”
The pressures of the senior year could also potentially influence finals week. At Purchase, all students are required to do a year-long senior project in order to graduate. It is designed to cumulate and hone the skills that one has learned from their major. Senior project is typically a four-credit course, so full-time students (those who take 12 credits or higher a semester) have to balance that with finals from other classes.
Jane Turturro, a senior art history major, recently submitted the final draft of her senior project, an art history paper on the life and work of Italian painter Artemisia Gentileschi. She still has three finals to complete before she can get officially call herself a graduate of Purchase College. However, this motivates her.
“I think finishing my senior project before my exams has actually given me way more energy to study because before all I could think of was finishing it on time,” she said.
Destiny Smith, a senior communications major who is also graduating this semester, feels the pressure of doing her senior project with finals. She has completed two of her finals-- her race and politics essay and her leisure, play, and imagination essay. The only thing left to do is her senior project.
“The senior project hasn’t necessarily worn me out,” she said. “It wasn’t as strenuous as I thought it would be, but I also have been in communication with my professor and they understand where I am with it and have guided me throughout the semester, which has helped. The one-on-one zoom meetings to talk it out and to hear her tell me that I am on the right track. I just have to fill out the page requirement with extra research, which I can do. So, I am excited.”
Smith has the advice to give. “You have to know yourself and know what will distract you and pull them away…. The worst thing you could ever do is procrastinate. Especially, during finals week and the week before finals actually begin. And I'm a senior, you'd think ‘well you're done so it doesn't matter,’ but this is when it matters the most. This is the most dangerous time. A few times I almost slipped up and didn't hand in an assignment. My excuse was, ‘I've been doing good all this time and I'm a senior,’ but I also knew that it doesn't take much to bring down your grade(s).”
In terms of managing stress, students have been using different tools to cope.
“To be honest, I just do it all in one go,” said Angel Sawka, a sophomore arts management major. “Come hell or high water, it’s not the best mechanism but at least it’ll get me through it. But, if I had an answer, I’d be taking small breaks here and there so you at least don’t overwhelm yourself.” Sawka has five finals, which include four papers and a final exam.
“I study listening to Lo-Fi music and take frequent short breaks to not burn out,” said Turturro.
“Usually I do work with [my friends]. Sometimes that motivates me to do it. But usually, for studying for exams, just writing it down helps… If they post a review guide or something like that, I'll rewrite all of my notes,” said Brennan.
“In order to prepare, I have taken some time to interact with other people because it does help me to talk it out. But I've also done a lot of walking. Just moving around and listening to music [helps] to calm my nerves. I look at it as ‘this is what I've done so far, now let me keep going,’” said Smith.