The very mention of them is enough to elicit fear and anxiety across an entire campus. It's the time of the year all college students collectively dread.
We pull all-nighters, even though we know it is guaranteed to tank our success. We emotionally eat our way through each assignment, even though we know we will regret it later. We stay up until 3 a.m. trying to learn material that should have been absorbed weeks (sometimes months) earlier. We put on a fake facade, and pretend like we aren't dying on the inside, only to have it spill out in an emotional breakdown at 4 a.m. over page length, definitions, and formulas. We finally crawl into our beds at 5 a.m., double and triple check our alarms to make sure we don't oversleep.
English/writing Studies majors have it completely different.
1. We don't have to study.
We don't memorize formulas, definitions, or concepts. Instead we apply our knowledge in the form of essays. They act as our grand finale, a culmination of everything we have learned during the quarter, our magnum opus.We pour our life and soul into them, nourish them from the ground up and wait in anticipation for our teachers to congratulate us and praise us on our masterpieces (okay that part doesn't actually happen).
2. Our finals start earlier.
Before you protest, or start to say it's impossible, or begin a tirade about how we have it so easy, hear me out.
This is a typical description for a final paper in a 300-level writing class:
- Explanation and assessment of one of the theories we've studied this quarter, using the novel as a case study.
- A reading of — (theme, characters, crucial points of conflict and resolution) using one of the theories we've studied this quarter.
- Comparison of two theories using — as a case study: for instance, you might want to compare Formalism to New Historicism, referring to — as your case study.
- A brief review of each of the five theories (formalism, psychoanalytic, Marxist, Feminist, and New Historicist), with a final assessment of the effectiveness or desirability of using critical theory when reading literary texts, referring to — as a case study.
It seems so easy right?
Wrong. There is so much more that goes into it than just writing a paper.
To put the entire process into perspective, I'm going to explain my process for writing a final paper.
If it is a story, book, or article we have not covered in class, I make sure that I have it fully read. If I've slacked off (which happens) this can mean cramming a 347 page novel into a single weekend.
Day 1–3. Choose a topic (or book, or story, or article). It has to be something I can write about for ~ ten pages, but also something that I can easily learn more about.
Day 3–4. Once I have my topic I analyze it (if it's a story or article), or I take notes on the main points if it is an article or argument. Then I do a ten minute free-write; it's just enough time for me to figure out what I need to know and what I need to develop more clearly.
Day 4–6. If I'm confident that I can create a solid paper, I take a break for a day or two to let it mettle. If not, I free-write again, change my perspective, or pick a new topic or article until I find one that works.
That's an entire week without any substantial amount of writing done, which is part of the reason we start our finals so early.
Day 7–10. I like to set aside three days to write my rough draft. Sometimes this is in small bursts, where I write the body, then the conclusion, and then the introduction. Sometimes I sit down for hours on end until I literally can't type anymore and my contacts are so blurry that I can't see my screen. Either way I end up with a nice (usually excessively long) rough draft.
Day 11–12. Once I have a solid rough draft, I take a break. I let it sit for a day, but usually I prefer two if it is in my time frame. This gives me time to distance myself from it, and put it out of my mind so that I can return with fresh eyes.
Day 13. After my break, I look at it again, searching for big picture problems (flow, strength of argument, strength of thesis, organization, clarity). If all of these are in a place I know that I can go ahead with my detail-intensive edits.
Once I've corrected any major flaws, I take a two hour break and look at it again, looking for the same issues to ensure they were full resolved.
Day 14. Once I've started to feel "good" about my work, I pull up the assignment description again and check to make sure all of the guidelines and requirements have been met. If they haven't, I add them in, and check for cohesion and clarity.
Look at how much has been done in a small seven day time period. It's a transformation from idea to execution. The paper is *almost* ready.
Day 15. I take a full day for the small line-edit details (grammar, punctuation, spelling, point of view, verb agreement). I like to complete them in small bursts: I'll read through it once and check everything, walk away for an hour or so, and then do it again. In a perfect world I do this three times, minimum, but it rarely ever comes out like that.
Day 16. You know in high school when your teachers would grill it into you about reading your papers out loud? Well I hate that, so I came up it's my own way: Google. I open a separate tab that has Google translate open and set to English. Starting at the beginning of my paper, I copy and paste each paragraph into the translator and listen as it is read aloud - this helps me catch 90% of my grammar, verb, and tense errors. I do this for the entire paper.
Day 17. On my final day I finish my last set of edits, this time for formatting and citations. I have never had a paper that takes less than four hours to complete this - just because it is so detail-heavy!
In a pinch, if I have slacked off and missed one of these deadline, I can cram day 15-17 into one, very long night.
Once all of these steps are completed, it turns into a waiting game, just waiting for the day of the final to turn it in and be done. This is the most stressful time ever because I either have already done the paper and it's just a matter of nit-picking over every detail, comma, word choice, and pronoun until it's time to submit, or I completely skipped this process and am rushing to do all of this last minute.
It's easily a two week (almost three if your great with deadlines) process. But here's the kicker: that is only one class, writing majors have two to three of these classes every quarter. So the workload and the deadlines gets multiplied by three.
Now add this to the fact that we still have regular class work and homework on top of this for at least two of the weeks, and you get some crazy late nights, sleep deprivation, cramping fingers, and sore eyes.
All finals are hard, and I'm not discounting the amount of work all the other majors have to pull off, but I am saying that writing majors shouldn't be discredited during finals week. We put just as much effort into our finals as everyone else.