Should Finals Be Before Or After Break?


Before – Uma

Back in December, a friend from another school and I were talking about what we were doing leading up to winter break. She told me that she was preparing for finals, which were taking place the week of December 18. I told her that at Parker, we have our final week three weeks after getting back to school. “Oof, that sucks,” she said, and it really, really does.

To lessen the extreme stress that students experience leading up to finals exams, finals should be before winter break.

Going into winter break, students should feel relaxed and relieved. They should feel accomplished and ready to start fresh when they get back to school in January, and I did, for the most part. I was happy to be on break, but I couldn’t help to shake the feeling that there was still something hanging over my head as I walked out of the Twelve Days MX. That something was finals week.

Finals week is an incredibly stressful time for students. Laden with up to six different projects, tests, or papers to keep track of, students can become overwhelmed. Finals can cause students to become sleep deprived (even more than before) and extremely worried about their grades. I even had a reserved tab on my browser for a Final Grade Calculator website. After weeks of rigorous studying, students deserve a winter break that is truly relaxing, a break that does not serve as a constant reminder that finals are drawing near. Having finals before break would make this a reality.

There are two types of students: those that study over break (props to you! I admire the dedication), and those who don’t. People who study or spend time thinking about their finals during break are more likely to stress during break, a time that is supposed to be relaxing. I believe that students shouldn’t be wasting these precious two weeks working on (dare I say) meaningless school work, and if they do, that should be their choice. A break should be a break, it’s in the name. Would you rather spend time with loved ones, sleep in, and enjoy your surroundings, or spend hours bent over a textbook? The answer’s pretty clear to me.

Those of us who don’t, under any circumstances, touch our school work over break often suffer from a condition that I like to call post-break amnesia. While I was on break, enjoying two weeks of academic dormancy, I blissfully forgot how to do mole conversions, prove congruency between triangles, and conjugate verbs in Spanish, all of which I had to relearn during the first week we got back. We spent a considerable amount of time in my classes reviewing and retrieving what knowledge we had lost over the break, valuable time that could’ve been spent getting through new curriculum. This current placement of finals can waste class time, especially for those who studied and reviewed material over break.

If finals were before break, we would’ve concluded all of our units before break, starting fresh with new concepts, books, and vocabulary in January. Besides, wouldn’t it make so much sense to end the final days of the year with a final exam and welcome in the new year with a new semester? 

In her perspective, Sejal talks about how having finals right before break could negatively affect vacation time if a student thinks that they did poorly on a final. While this is possible, it hardly compares to the relentless preoccupation about post-break exams that hang over many students’ heads while on vacation. In addition, a student could have done really well on a final, and would therefore go into break in good spirits.

This leads me to another issue, which deserves an article in and of itself: even though they aren’t supposed to, some teachers assign homework over break. Having finals the last week before school gets out in December would mean that students would start new units come second semester. Teachers cannot assign homework for classes in a semester that hasn’t started yet.

So, I have spent the past 676 words trying to convince you that finals should be before break. You may have been wondering, “is moving finals to before break really that simple?” Valid question. No, it’s not. Hence, the large amount of time I’ve spent trying to solve this complex calendar puzzle. 

This year there was one week and three days leading up to finals week. With the addition of finals week, that makes two and a half weeks of first semester spent in January. This year, in order to make finals before break, we could have started school two and a half weeks earlier (honestly, if other schools can do it, we can too). This would mean that we would end school two and a half weeks earlier, or it could also make sense to add a week to a second semester break, leaving us ending only one and a half weeks earlier. 

Another option could have been to start school one and a half weeks earlier, and start break a week later (break would start around December 22 and end around January 8), which is what a lot of other schools did this year. But, the orientation of every year is different, so these options just represent what could have been done this year. 

Finals week is stressful enough without an awkwardly placed two week learning gap right before it. Having finals before break could alleviate some of the stress tied to reviewing material and keep winter break free of anxiety and anticipation. If finals were before break, students would be sent off to break proud of the work they’d done that semester, with a fresh start to look forward to.

After – Sejal

Finals season is a difficult time, filled with anxiety, tension, tears, and full notebooks. The snowball of stress that builds as teachers explain a test or project worth a decent percentage of the grade seems crushing- how is one to complete so much work? Let’s not forget the studying. Hours and hours are devoted to re-learning and strengthening your understanding of a full semester of classwork. It’s certainly daunting and requires patience and willpower. However, by the end of finals week, a huge weight is lifted off your shoulders. You’ve finally completed all your exams and projects, and your hard work has paid off. Those of us familiar with this moment happily anticipate its arrival; counting the seconds until we’re officially through with finals. Would you want to go into this week with a clouded head, or a clear one? 

I’m going to assume you’d rather go into finals with a clear head. What better way to do so than by taking a two week recess beforehand? The luxury of the break is time to spend with people you care about, doing things you love: be that reading, traveling, watching Netflix, hanging out with your friends, or eating great food. Jumping straight from a week of typical school to a week of finals prep to a week of finals is migraine-inducing. Coming back from the break and having nearly two weeks of school solely dedicated to brushing up on the contents of the semester is an excellent way to ensure that students aren’t feeling overwhelmed and confused by the contents of their exams and projects. This way, coming back from break, students can have a singular focus: finals. 

Uma touches on what she calls post-break amnesia. Though many students may feel as though they’ve forgotten everything they learned over break, I would argue that they did not truly forget anything. Perhaps we need a little brushing up on the topics, but none of the information is entirely gone. The existing one and a half weeks before finals is the perfect amount of time to jog one’s memory of the semester. Shoving such a stressful and important week into the time before break does nothing but increase feelings of anxiousness and reduce one’s capacity to learn. Let’s be completely honest. Most people tend to pay less attention during the week before break. One cannot help but think of all the free time they’ll have in a few short days. You honestly mean to tell me you could redirect every bit of that distraction? 

Keep in mind, if you take a final exam or present a project the week before break and feel as though you did badly, that could take a toll on you and your break. Who wants to spend their vacation stressing over a possible poor grade? Wouldn’t you rather spend your holidays happy and hopeful for the upcoming week? I acknowledge that very few people study for finals over break- and I think that’s fine. I don’t see it as a hindrance to one’s performance in the finals. 

Uma mentions the unpleasantness of teachers assigning homework over break, and I suggest that instead of going through the arduous process of altering the timing of finals to resolve this issue, we simply speak to those in charge and request that our teachers are formally asked not to assign us work over break. One of the great advantages of post-winter break finals is that right before break, teachers can tie up any loose ends, which provides a clear resolution to any unanswered questions. This way, when studying after break, there’s no ambiguity surrounding the material that will be in the final. 

There are a few disadvantages to having finals before break. First of all, we’d have to start school a few weeks earlier than we already do. One of the best parts of Parker’s summer break is the fact that we go back so much later than other schools. I would argue that this is not a sacrifice worth making. Those final three weeks of summer are incredible for traveling, attending camp, and savoring the quickly escaping season. I personally love the final weeks of summer break; other schools are in session, meaning foot traffic in the city is low. I can go to the zoo, the lake, and other places without worrying about massive crowds and herds of tourists. 

Finally, we need to keep in mind the fact that the second semester is already longer than the first semester. Changing finals to be before the break shortens the first semester even further, meaning the second semester would be substantially longer than the first. This puts the students and teachers of single-semester classes at a disadvantage, as their class is either much too short or much too long. First semester classes will feel cramped and packed full with too much information, while second semester classes will drone on, lacking bases to cover. With finals the way they are now, each semester is as even as possible. Finals have taken place after winter break for years, and it hasn’t done us any wrong. It’s the most advantageous of the two possible timings, and should be kept as it is.