Surviving Finals Week

By Fr. Thom Hennen

I often tell our students that while I miss learning in a formal setting, I don’t miss having to be accountable for my learning in a formal setting.  In other words, I love to learn, but I don’t miss the tests, papers and projects.

Fr. Hennen

As colleges and universities head into finals week, this can be a very stressful time for students.  Those of us who work in campus ministry often joke that finals week is also the most intense week of prayer in the academic year, as in, “Please, God, just let me pass this test!”  While that’s not a bad prayer, there are some other important things to be attentive to during finals week and some better ways to pray that may be more helpful.  Drawing from my own past experience as a student and now as a university chaplain I would offer the following tips on surviving finals week.

Prioritize.  In any given semester there are generally more difficult classes and less difficult classes.  There are probably classes that you could pass as it stands with an average or even a low grade on a final.  At the same time, there are probably a couple of classes that will require extra attention.  Focus your energies there.  This not to say that you don’t need to worry at all about the others, but we can easily sucked down the “rabbit hole” and end up spending a lot of needless time and energy on things that are less important.

Don’t forget the basics.  I only remember trying to pull an “all-nighter” once in college, as I was preparing for multiple finals on the same day.  That was a mistake.  I don’t think my “mush mind” really absorbed much new information after midnight, and because I tried to give myself a couple hours sleep, I nearly slept through my first final!  I would have been better served closing the books, going to bed earlier and getting up a little earlier if needed.  Often students think they are saving time or energy by skipping sleep or meals.  In fact, they are cutting themselves off from essential power supplies.  While you’re at it, don’t forget to pray, and I mean really pray, not just a last minute desperate bargain with God to pass a test.  If anything, insist more upon prayer in times of stress.  Even if it is only 10-15 minutes at different times throughout the day, we all need time for a spiritual “reset.”  I have never left prayer feeling robbed for time, but almost always with a greater sense of focus, confidence and peace.

Do your best and accept the results.  I’ll never forget my first test in major seminary in Rome.  I studied my posterior off for this test.  It was a long, arduous written final.  Then I got my grade back.  It was a “6,” which was the minimum passing grade on a 10-point scale in the Roman system.  How could this be?  I worked so hard.  I knew the material, or at least I thought I did.  I was angry and disappointed in myself.  But as I thought about it more, I realized this wasn’t everything.  In some ways maybe that professor did me a favor by bursting the bubble of my pride and perfectionism.  In the end, I did the best I could and there was no sense in stewing over it.  I had to move on.  If things don’t go quite as well as you hoped, then at least take consolation in the fact that you did your best and be at peace.  If nothing else, it’s over!  Stand up, dust yourself off, and keep going.

And so, to all preparing for the end of the semester and approaching finals: study hard, take care of yourselves, and know that God is with you no matter what.

(Father Thom Hennen is chaplain of St. Ambrose University in Davenport.)

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