As I arrived on campus this morning, a very light snow was falling. The buildings were covered in a pale dusting, our newly-lighted holiday spruce glowed optimistically in the center of the quad, and the Knight in front of Horrigan Hall wore a mantle of white (which only increased his air of determination).
For students rushing into exams, however, I am not sure our first snowfall offered such an inspirational moment. In fact, I would venture to guess that the terrible traffic situations induced by the snow offered moments of anxiety and stress for BU professors and commuters in other parts of the city (I know this because, walking through the lot, I almost got clipped by the cars of tardy students zipping around looking for parking spaces). For those students living on campus, the snow offered an opportunity to get damp and cold on the way to an early-morning final. What a way to start the week…
Murphy’s law states that, “Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.” In my humble experience, this is never truer than during final exam week (perhaps a bizarre coincidental planetary alignment?). Snow causes traffic backups, computers suddenly crash, printers run out of ink in the exact second students need to print important papers, cars break down, books and notebooks go missing, exemplary students forget (for the first time since second grade!) to set their alarms and subsequently oversleep. These things can (and will) happen to even the best of students, and the occurrence of just one of these incidents can, during finals week, make any student feel like the whole world is out to get them. In this case, as my grandma used to say, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” (Apparently, I am just full of adages and platitudes today…must be the weather…).
The more students are prepared for the elements of finals they can anticipate, the less they will feel the stressful reverberations of those unavoidable accidents that screw things up. What I’ve found though, is that, regardless of preparation, there is usually one moment of sheer panic during finals week. I mean, what student walks around with a universal ink cartridge?
So I thought today, as the snowfall induced my surprisingly hopeful view of campus, might be a good time for me to share with you and your students what feeble advice I have garnered in my time at BU.
Don’t panic. I’ll never forget the time senior year when my best friend slept all the way through an important final. The friend (who shall remain nameless) ran, panting, past me in the hallway at noon, still wearing her PJs (it bears noting here that this particular friend is truly one of the most studious, organized, responsible people I have ever known), practically in tears. Suffice it to say, it all came out in the wash, she graduated (on time) and has now completed a Master’s degree and had great success in her chosen profession. Panicking is about as useful as chewing gum to solve an algebra problem.
Talk to somebody. This works best if it’s not somebody immediately involved in the panic-ridden situation. Students should get another (less clouded with panic) perspective.
Plan next steps and be pro-active. Your student woke up an hour and a half late for the final. Utter panic ensued. Tears. Tearing of the hair. Vehement cursing. What should he/she do? Take immediate action. Call the department of the final and talk to the secretary. Call AAA. He/she should think about the most calm, diplomatic way to discuss this snafu with the professor.
Own it. We’re human; it happens. We screw up. Sometimes we screw up BIG TIME, but it’s inevitable. The faster you can own it, the faster you can fix it.
Take them out of the moment. Ask panicked student this question, “Five years from now, with this still feel as important?” Help them get some perspective. Realize that yes, it’s bad right now, but in just a few days, it will all calm down. The nameless friend who missed her final? It took about two years for her to be able to talk about that incident without breathing deeply into a paper bag. But the course of her life was not altered because of it. Finals week can be full of messes, but it can also be full of victories. Nothing feels better for students, on a brisk day like today, than walking out of a classroom, taking a deep breath, and knowing that they aced finals. I hope that all of your students can experience moments like this during this finals week (as opposed to the type listed above).
Parents, what advice do you give students in moments like this? Have any tales from your experiences that you’d care to share (for the purposes of learning, of course). Please feel free to share ponderings, thoughts, queries, and/or advice.
Bellarmine University, c/o 2005
Director of Writing and Parent Communications