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Going Into A Final On The Brink Of Failing The Class? Here’s What Experts Say To Do

With finals quickly approaching, the most wonderful time of the year can quickly turn into the most torturous. Iced coffee and holiday music can only do so much to keep you going. As your motivation wanes and the workload piles up, you may be scrambling to make it to the final finish line. That two-week review period might feel more like two years. 

For some students, the added pressure of trying to pass classes when the possibility of an F is very much on the table might contribute to the overall stress of finals season. Those final grade calculator websites are probably your worst enemy (thanks, but I don’t want to know that I need a 104% on my exam to get a D). And who can even begin to count the hours spent stressing in the library? Though that final grade may look bleak, that’s no reason to give up altogether. Before you decide to call it quits on studying and essay-editing, you might want to listen to some advice from professors and TAs alike. After all, who knows better about student success than they do? 

Don’t Procrastinate

It’s always tempting to fall into the trap of procrastination. If you catch yourself saying, “I’ll do this tomorrow” (and then repeat the same thing tomorrow), let me offer you some advice: Do the work now. Taking the first step on your assignments may be difficult, but your proactivity will pay off. Otherwise, your stress will only get worse.

Dr. James Truman, an English professor at Trinity College, recognizes the perils of procrastination. “Students are generally at risk of failing because they become paralyzed by the anxiety about or fear of failing,” Truman says. “And that manifests by disappearing, either literally or figuratively. They get behind and they panic.” Though ignoring your work might be the easiest way to avoid stress, it’s definitely the least efficient. 

Communicate With Your Professor

Finals week is hectic for everyone, so it’s understandable why some students don’t stop by office hours. Still, there’s nothing wrong with asking for clarification or feedback on assignments. “Communicate (respectfully!) with your instructors/professors,” Truman says. “And try to do it IN PERSON. Email is good — but set up a meeting! Humanize your engagements. Remind the professor that you’re a person, and remember that the professor is a person, too. This is hard, I know. But it’s worth doing.” While booking an appointment might add to your busy schedule, you’ll prove to your professors that you’re willing to put in the work. 

Sammi Bray, a TA at Trinity College, echoes Truman’s advice. “My advice for students preparing for finals after a tough semester would be to set up times to meet with professors, either during their office hours or by appointment,” Bray says. “It’s beneficial because students can get an idea of what they need to be successful, but also demonstrates an extra effort.”

Expanding on Bray and Truman’s answers, Rachel Papalski, another TA at Trinity, underlines the importance of contacting TAs and student mentors. “Lean on the resources you are given,” Papalski says. “Reach out to your professors, TAs, and [mentors]; you have a support network of people that are vying to help you and can also help you know what you need to do to succeed in the particular class!” Support is the key word here. No matter what school you go to or where you stand academically, your professors will always have your back. 

Some students, however, might have difficulty asking for help. As Truman tells us, students who are “used to being high-achieving” typically hesitate to contact their professors.  “They can get trapped in an all-or-nothing binary,” Truman says. “It’s either an A or F. But a B is often fine! A C is not the end of the world. In-person communication can help clarify expectations.” If in-person communication is tricky, remember — Zoom is always an option. 

Sometimes, embarrassment is what holds students back. Ashamed by the quality of their work, some students might not even hand in their final. To that, Truman relays two quotes, “‘Something is always better than nothing’ (sometimes students don’t turn in work rather than turn in ‘bad’ work), and, ‘The perfect is the enemy of the good (or adequate).’” In other words, don’t stress if your essay isn’t “perfect.” Whatever you have written is good enough. 

Stay Accountable

During finals week, you might find yourself simultaneously more and less busy. Extracurriculars and classes have likely ended, forcing you to confront your workload. Since this time of the semester is so unstructured, it’s important to create a routine. “Set yourself up with a schedule of when you want to work on different assignments, when you should be studying — with breaks! — and so forth is a great way to stay on top of things,” says Bray, later adding, “What really matters is accountability.” Self-discipline and organization can really go a long way. 

Just because you have to focus on finals doesn’t mean you can’t relax. As Bray touches on, breaks are necessary for regaining your energy and clearing your mind. Papalski says, “Aligning your finals week studying schedule in a way that is both practical and gives you time to decompress and rest is also vital.” After all, “You will perform your best when you are adequately rested and prioritize your own wellbeing!” 

In the end, your wellbeing is really what you need to look out for. Be patient with yourself — grades don’t reflect who you are. And just think, once you get past this week, you’re on winter break.

Jill Schuck

Trinity '23

Jill Schuck is currently a senior at Trinity College in Hartford, CT. There, she majors in creative writing and minors in rhetoric and media studies, with hopes of working in publishing. Aside from reading and writing, Jill enjoys traveling, practicing self-care, and spending too much money on matcha.