Love it or Hate it: Final Papers vs. Final Exams
Final Exams: You’re in for an intense, yet short and sweet rollercoaster ride
Huong T. Le
With a final exam, there is no need to schedule 50 different Calendlys with your TF to discuss your thought process. You have three hours and JUST three hours. As an exam-taker, you only have to memorize a semester’s worth of class material and dump it out on paper, and when you hand in that thicc stack of papers with your name and Harvard ID on every page, YOU’RE DONE! No proofreading, no citations, no cutting back on words to fit the limits. Out of sight, out of mind!
It’s pretty amazing to take a three-hour final exam in one sitting. As your hands are writing like a typing machine, your brain is synthesizing ALL the information you have accumulated since the beginning of the semester. Pretty impressive work for running on two+ shots of espresso and three hours of sleep. You should be proud of yourself, because we are!
Meanwhile, remember grinding a final paper you put off ’til the last day? You can spend hours in the liminal space of Lamont, looking at a blank document, waiting for the ideas to miraculously come to you. Sometimes it can also feel like you have too many options to choose from and suddenly your inability to make a decision is stopping you from writing anything. Plus, essays can be extremely hard impossible to write if you haven’t done the readings because suddenly you’re expected to synthesize and write a complex analysis of material that you haven’t looked at after skimming the syllabus in January.
Final exams, on the other hand, are the golden ground to flex your BS ability. You don’t need to put in polished sentences with advanced vocabulary to impress your TF, who is already bored grading hundreds of other papers. You can keep your answers short and sweet. As my friends throw me sympathetic looks for studying so hard for my upcoming final exams, I sympathize with them for having three humanities papers looming over their heads. I hope they find the time in between the endless formals to complete their 300-page readings. For me, I just can't wait until the moment I walk out of that big lecture hall, leaving my exam and class behind that door forever.
Final Papers: It’s always better when it’s on my terms.
Final papers are the more merciful enemy because they let you go down your way. There’s no three-hour limit and you can go at your own pace. Without the time limit, you don’t get that horrible rush of anxiety in exams where you are second guessing all of your answers every time someone gets up to turn their exam in (gotta love imposter syndrome). Plus you can have someone look over your work and help you before you turn it in, but in exams that would be “academic dishonesty” or whatever.
Not only can you do papers on your own timeline, but you also get to write them in whatever environment you’d like. The crusty ambiance of Lamont at 3 a.m.? The dark academia aesthetic of Widener? The cozy comfort of your own bedroom? The choice is yours. No need to be trapped in a tiny little desk for three hours in a lecture hall, with your posture looking more like a shrimp every minute.
Another great thing about final papers is that you don’t have to memorize stuff. Imagine this: you’re in the middle of an exam and you vaguely remember the page the answer is on. What was on the right corner of page 312? You can almost picture it, but then it disappears like a mirage, leaving just frustration behind. With a paper, you can go back and look at the material whenever you need.
One of the best things about essays is that there’s (usually) so much more creative freedom. We Live in A Society and this is one of the few times where you can choose to follow your dreams (!!) and write about what you want since there’s rarely only one correct answer.