What a difference a year makes: a focus on finals in the midst of a pandemic


Photo Courtesy/ Pixabay TaniaRose

When thinking about where I was this time last year, at least in a physical sense, I’m pulled back into my life abroad: relaxing in the lush courtyard of the St. John’s Rome campus, sipping a scalding cup of raspberry tea and following that burn with little bites of the last vegan blueberry croissant I’d managed to snag from Vero cafe that morning. Mentally, I felt relaxed and in control, for once in my life, not so worried about the looming dread that often comes as a side effect of even thinking of finals week as a whole — spending four months travelling with your best friends under the glow of the Italian sun will do that for you.

What I wouldn’t give to be that girl again, channeling her inner Lizzie McGuire, certain another 4.0 is coming her way in the near future. But I’m certainly not in Rome anymore and I’m not so sure about that 4.0. This fall, there’s no cozy courtyard for me to lounge and focus on doing my work in, no tea to burn my tongue with and my yummy croissant from Vero cafe is nowhere to be found. Instead, I’m trapped in the four powder-pink walls of my room, which has been my prison for the past nine months. At this point in the semester, I’ve spent more days than I’d even like to count hunched over my laptop at my tiny desk, struggling to stave off the impending mental breakdown that 2020 has been trying to send me spiraling into.

This semester, many of us have had to act as both teacher and student, struggling to absorb the facets of topics not necessarily meant to be learned or taught in an online format. Week after week, we’ve had to put up with a lot, struggling through botched Zoom and Webex meetings, writing essay upon essay and pulling lengthy discussion posts filled with nonsense from where the sun certainly doesn’t shine, all in the midst of a global health crisis. And through it all, we’re expected to be exemplary students, unaffected by a world that is most definitely on fire.

This semester has been hell on earth for me. While the switch to learning in an online format has been as difficult for me as it has been for many others, that fact is not my prime stressor this finals season. This is the longest stretch of time I’ve spent at home since my senior year of high school nearly four years ago, and to be honest, I’ve been going through it — senioritis coupled with an often well-meaning yet overbearing family is a cocktail I wouldn’t serve to my worst enemy. 

Although we got a sneak peek of what online finals look like when we switched to a remote learning format at the end of the spring semester, for many like myself, taking all online or hybrid classes for the entirety of the semester is another story altogether. Luckily enough, all of my finals are either essays that I have to write or presentations I’ve already given, but this is not the case for everyone. My hope is that, although finals week may look a bit different this semester and may even be a bit tougher for some, professors take the mental stressors that may have been plaguing their students during this semester into account when grading.

In the meantime, remember to listen to your body! Have you been crouched over your laptop, staring at the same essay prompt for longer than you want to admit? Get up and stretch your body out! Is that one math problem bringing on a panic attack? Stop, grab yourself a cup of something warm and take a break while you finish that off. Feel a tension headache coming on? Maybe it’s time for a short nap. Stay calm and focus on taking care of you — I hope that calm will soothe some of the stress of this year away, leaving you a bit more refreshed and ready for your exams.