Editor’s Note Episode 10: Finals dominate winter break

| Multimedia Editor

With finals taking place in the middle of winter break, Washington University students struggled to stay on top of their studies and enjoy at least some of their usual rest period.

Christine Watridge

“Editor’s Note Episode 10: Finals dominate winter break” can also be found on Spotify, Apple Podcasts and Soundcloud.

The transcript of the episode can be found below. It has been lightly edited for clarity:

JADEN SATENSTEIN (0:08-1:15) Winter break is often the most anticipated part of Washington University’s academic calendar. A time to ring in the new year with family and friends and enjoy a complete escape from classes.

This year, that wasn’t the case.

I’m Multimedia Editor Jaden Satenstein, and you’re listening to Editor’s Note, Student Life’s weekly podcast. Today, we explore how Washington University students handled the end of the fall semester. Because the University pushed the semester’s start date three weeks later than usual, students completed classes on December 18th before diving right back into their studies, as the fall’s finals period took place from January 4th to the 10th, completely remote.

Freshman Kat Berens had three papers and an exam due finals week, her first finals season at school. For Berens, having time off in late December made getting back into the flow of studying more difficult than she’d expected.

KAT BERENS (1:16-1:32) When I had midterms, I knew it was coming, and I planned ahead because I was in school mode. But, I kind of really didn’t want to take finals anymore and didn’t have a lot of motivation to study. So it was definitely harder than I expected it to be because I expected myself to be more on top of it.

JS (1:33-1:48) Still, Berens noted that she spent the break period leading up to the start of finals working about two hours a day to make sure she’d finish everything on time. She noted that uncertainty throughout the semester over what the finals period would look like exacerbated her stress.

KB (1:49-2:05) For a few of my classes, I didn’t really know when they were due or what my final was until the last week of class. It would’ve been nice to know earlier, or know the due dates and expectations earlier. Just because I feel like I ended up doing a lot of things last minute.

JS (2:06-2:17) Berens expressed gratitude toward her professors for their support and understanding before and throughout finals. Also acknowledging that support, freshman Shelei Pan noted the burdens that the schedule put on everyone involved.

SHELEI PAN (2:18-2:28) I recognize that it wasn’t only a problem for us. It was a problem for the instructors as well because they basically also were spending their time throughout break writing test questions and grading, and now they’re dealing with regrades.

JS (2:29-2:43) Sophomore Grethe Andersen also stressed how helpful her professors were with finals preparation. Still, Anderson had two papers, an exam and a foreign language short story due between January 4th and 6th, dominating the majority of her break period.

GRETHE ANDERSEN (2:44-2:59) I did, I think, a bulk of my work the week leading up to Christmas. And then, also, I believe I was doing work on New Year’s Eve, which was a bummer, but that’s okay [laughs]. And, I think, as well the week leading up to January 4th and 5th.

JS (3:00-3:09) But studying over break wasn’t the only challenge that this year’s schedule posed. It also meant a quick turnaround between the finals and spring semester, with classes starting again on Monday, January 25th.

GA (3:10-3:39) I personally think that I was really lucky in terms of the professors that I had, and also my home environment. My family understood that I had to do work, and they were really understanding about that. So I think I was really lucky with that respect, but I still do feel like I felt pretty burnt out by the end. And then I moved back to St. Louis. And so I didn’t really have more than four days to kind of relax before I had to move everything down and pack everything up, and that was kind of crazy.

JS (3:40-4:00) Come May, spring semester finals will look a bit more normal. After classes, students will have two reading days to prepare, a reduction from the usual three-day period. Anderson noted that she hopes spring finals include fewer synchronous exams to allow students more control over their schedules, especially for those who are in different time zones.

GA (4:01-4:37) In general, I think it’s important for professors to realize that, while a final given at one time may be good to discourage academic dishonesty, it may also just be really detrimental to students’ health. And so I think in general, it may be important to reevaluate the whole finals structure. Like, is a final exam maybe the best way to test students at the end of the semester? Or maybe would a final project be more helpful to both assess students’ understanding and also to provide a finals experience that is still healthy for students and allows them to get proper sleep and everything.

JS (4:38-5:17) In an email to Student Life, College of Arts & Sciences Dean Jennifer Smith also noted that she’s curious to see if faculty who replaced exams with projects continue to do so in the future. Smith wrote that the finals period went “as smoothly as” expected “given the constraints,” also highlighting that fall semester GPAs were the highest the college had ever seen. Unlike normal semesters, students were able to take two classes pass/fail rather than just one. Still, Smith said she hopes the University never has to hold a finals period after new year’s again.

Reflecting on a strange first finals period, Berens acknowledged how vital breaks are to learning.

KB (5:19-5:47) I should have known that I wasn’t going to be that productive right after classes ended. And I should have just taken a little bit of time for myself and then really try to work. Just because I kept trying to work during the break, and I just couldn’t really produce any good content or study at all, and I got really frustrated. So I think I should have given myself a break and then designated actual time where I was gonna start studying so I could just be more productive.

JS (5:48-5:49) Anderson shared a similar realization.

GA (5:50-6:23) I think it was just such a strange semester that I guess I learned that it definitely is okay to take a break and maybe, this sounds really bad, but maybe not give 100% all the time. Because, at the end of the day, if you give 100% all of the time with school work, you’re taking away from your own time with your family and your own time to take care of yourself. So, although it was a super stressful time, at the end of it I kind of was like, ‘Wow, I should have relaxed a little bit more.’ I guess if I learned anything that’s probably my takeaway.

JS (6:29-6:43) Freshmen Kamala Madireddi and Charlotte Kramon contributed reporting to this episode. Madireddi edited the audio. Copy Chief JJ Coley wrote our theme music.

Editor’s Note will be back next week. For Student Life Media, I’m Jaden Satenstein.

This episode was written and hosted by Multimedia Editor Jaden Satenstein. Multimedia staffers Kamala Madireddi and Charlotte Kramon contributed reporting. Madireddi edited the audio. Copy Chief JJ Coley wrote our theme music.

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