The Finals Weekend Showdown: Finals vs. Papers

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bring it, bitch.

Another vintage post from our archives for you to contemplate while holed up in the library…

With classes completed and a weekend now free to bemoan our misery, Bwoggers weigh in from Butler Cafe/salon: what’s worse, studying for finals or writing papers?


Remember: every essay is an open book test. With class notes, a few highlighted passages, and the wisdom of Wikipedia, writing the final paper for that morning lecture you haven’t graced with your presence since October becomes a manageable feat. For the overachiever, a few days of advance planning gives plenty of time to skim a book or two on an exhaustive syllabus.  After a night’s work, you’re an experton Early Modern thought – or, at very least, you’re an expert on Descartes, whose Meditations on First Philosophy clocks in at around 70 pages– and your professor will be awed at your profound insights.Whereas the finals studier, settling down to confront that stack of unread books the morning before the test begins, will probably forget everything he wished he knew about Hobbes as soon as the clock starts ticking.

That’s another thing – essays are free of the stomach-churning anxiety that reminds you of the night before the SATs.  And that nervousness doesn’t make you work faster, it only makes you stall.  It’s not high school anymore, and we’re out of testing practice. Remember how you used to fire out short answers about the Monroe Doctrine?  Remember how you used to diagram the stages of anaerobic respiration?  Remember how you used to make flashcards?  Just look at you now: struggling to make a simple comparison between Aristotle and Aquinas.  Pathetic.  Don’t mourn your lost youth and do what we came here to do: argue, debate, and use enough pretty language to hide what you don’t know.


Finals are the godsend of the procrastinating humanities student. You read, er… skimmed, er… sparknoted all those books, but more importantly you sat through class and based your bullshit comments on the synopsis there given by the one person who read all of The Republic. They say you’ll remember an idea if you really engage with it – well, you have! You sat at that seminar table, didn’t you? Now all that’s left to do is to review, and you’ve got plenty of time, the test is tomorrow. It’s past midnight? Ok, technically it’s today. The test is in two hours. One hour. Not ready? Too bad, you can’t make up an excuse to turn this paper in late, even if it has the potential to be a masterpiece (once you start it). You have to show up to that test. And chances are you’ll do fine. And even if you don’t, 2 hours of studying will probably get you a passing grade, while two hours of writing a paper will probably only get you half a paper. This is about time management, Butler zombies.

Ok, so the more technically or linguistically minded among us might not get many organic compounds or Italian verbs memorized in 2 hours. But think of your theoretical other option – in an alternate universe, you’d be writing a paper about the development of that Italian verb (or worse, writing a paper in Italian) or a research paper on the use of Vomitoxin, Uranocene, or Fukalite (yeah, those are real organic compounds). But if you have a final, you’ll probably be asked at most to identify what type of compound Dinocap (also real) is in. And even if you don’t prepare in advance, you know you can – exams that test you on the whole of a psychology text book, for example, are easy to read ahead on. No “here’s you paper topic, due in 72 hours.” No one will argue that computer science concepts are easy, but would you really rather be writing a paper about them?

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  1. Attention butler procrastinators:  

    Join us for a game of sardines (the group hide and seek game!) at 5pm. Meet in the cafe!

  2. Generally  

    I find that in semesters where I have more papers, I think finals are way easier, and in semesters where I have more finals, I would much rather be writing papers.

  3. Papers, hands down

    I'll always take papers over finals.

    Yes, finals are over in a couple of hours but I'm generally a pretty big choker when it comes to exam (didn't poop for a week before the GMATs...not that you asked). Papers are just a matter of fighting procrastination. Or not even that if you start early enough.

    Some tunes, a brownie (or 4), a couple of 3o Rock eps every few hours. Make mine Papers.

  4. Anonymous  

    im in seas, and i havent seriously written a paper since university writing. essays are a joke. but i wont say that out loud because im pretty sure all those poli sci kids will chuck their ten billion random ass hardcover 15o page books at me.

    • cc  

      i stopped reading once you said "im in seas"

    • Anonymous  

      but papers require actual complex, critical thought, not just regurgitation

      • Anonymous

        seas exams are usually problem solving. and doing that under a time limit is not fun.

        it's not regurgitation.

        • Anonymous  

          you're still working within a system, a set of given rules and objectives, right?

          • Anonymous  

            lets not kid ourselves... you're saying every paper you write is so original and profound that it rises above some "system" or set of "rules and objectives"?

          • Anonymous  

            Calm down guys. I know you're stressed and tired but can't we all just get along?

            By the way, when's orgo night?

            You guys should check that out, it would be a good study break.

          • Anonymous  

            no, but that's what i have to attempt to do in every paper. i'm not saying i always accomplish it, i'm saying i find critical writing way harder and more complex than problem-solving on exams.

          • hrmph  

            u sir, are a complete idiot. i don't understand how u can trivialise taking a final by calling it 'regurgitation'. this isn't some elementary school in china, this is columbia. when u sit for a final, not only are u expected to have mastered an insane amount of complicated concepts, u are expected to be able to recall them and apply them to even more complicated situations. this is not regurgitation. you can't bullshit it like u can a paper. u can fail the final but u cannot fail the paper.

          • Anonymous  

            calm down, seas. yes, i'm sure you're dealing with "an insane amount of complicated concepts," but you are given information and concrete procedures to learn. it may be easier to bullshit the paper but that doesn't mean it's easier to do it well.

          • Yeah,

            the number of "concepts" you're expected to have learned isn't generally if ever insane, but your principal point is valid-- on a final you're typically expected to apply your knowledge to contexts you couldn't have foreseen, and thereby to show the understanding that you've acquired, not simply the contents of your memory bank.

          • would it  

            kill you to type out "you" ?

    • Anonymous

      The key here being "since university writing". Yeah, I agree, UW essays are a joke: I'm a senior, and I'm yet to use anything from that class (as a humanities major I've had to write my fair share of papers). However, you really can't judge how difficult it is to write an A paper if you've never had to write a real essay for a real class.

  5. Could it be that...  

    Paper are so much easier! If you don't know something, you can look it up!!!! Yes, they take more time, and that is an absolute bitch. But when you're writing a paper, you can never ever ever ever be at a complete loss. This is not the case when taking a test. When you're writing a paper, you have your class notes, the original text, your friends, and THE INTERNET. When you're taking a test, you have NOTHING. You actually have to know everything.

    Furthermore, on a test, you never know what you'll be asked! Sure you can take educated guesses, but likely, most of the test will be about what you studied the least, and what you studied the most won't even be on there. Yes, papers may take longer, but at least all that time is well-spent! When you're writing a paper, you'll never spend hours on something you won't end up needing to know.

  6. Anon

    I have two exams left and can't believe how stressed I am, even though I'm going into both of them with at least an A-. However, I just turned in a hefty final paper earlier this week and felt like it just about killed me, even though I was writing on a topic I genuinely like.

    My all-time favorite scenario is when the prof requires you to turn in a list of possible source materials early on, then an outline a little later, then a first draft a little after that. By the time you sit down to "write the paper", you're mostly just editing. God damn, I love those professors.

    Ah, back to studying.

  7. CURFC

    Have you taken a D-Mowsh bio test?

  8. exams for the win!  

    because you know that it will be over in X amount of time and it doesn't drag on for days

  9. Questionable Acts  

    Take home finals --- the worst of both exams and papers.

  10. Anonymous  

    "but papers require actual complex, critical thought, not just regurgitation"

    Oh, liberal arts. Where taking a calculus final is considered "regurgitation." I'd take a paper over the 4 finals I have any day....

  11. Anonymous

    heres my two cents.

    both are annoying as hell.. but

    1. its much easier to fail a final
    2. its harder to get an A+ on an essay

  12. Papers all the way

    ...As I sit in the BSL studying for tomorrow's final...

    I would so much rather be writing a paper... I like to have as much control over my own grade as possible, thank you, and that's MUCH easier with a paper than a final.

  13. Anonymous  

    I think papers are better because as other people have said your professor can't throw you a curveball on your paper, but they sure as hell can on a final. Haven't we all focused on the wrong concepts gone into the final and found out that what we worked so hard on was a small part or wasn't on the final at all?

  14. science major  

    writing is a painful process that I definitely don't enjoy... so any paper or final with writing I automatically hate

    • Not only that

      but as a science/non science double major, there is no way in heaven or hell that I'll get a A in a science class (for example: fluids) unless you're like a fucking genius or a post-bacc. However, if you crank out 2-3 more than decent papers you're guaranteed at least a B+. That puts the pressure on majorly. You can study your ass off for a science exam and get a 40 or you can kill yourself writing for the B+, A- you need to make up for shitty, yet unavoidable, science classes.

  15. i put my handsup in the air sometimes sayi  

    -yin' aaayyyyooooo

    Forrreealllllz peeps
    go read them bookz

  16. Caspita!

    Someone else studied Italian Language and Organic Chemistry?! I've always said they go hand in hand.

  17. Anonymous

    I got 4 finals starting Monday, haven't even started studying yet, nor have I done anything since midterms, no reading, no class notes, attended less than 50% of the time, when I do go I just go online and not pay attention. I'd rather take a test any day, they take like 3-4 hours to study for and boom C+. The only thing I have done is smoked a lot of weed and spent hundreds of hours meditating about when I should start a dam paper so it will be completed on my way out the door to class. Papers, suck, they take forever to do, they take forever to start, the stress is killer, if I didn't have to do papers, school wouldn't be tripping me out when I'm high, and I'd just be able to relax and be comfortable.

    Holy F%$& I just realized it's about to be Sunday, not Saturday, I'm screwed, oh wait a minute I'm not because I just have in class exams.

  18. Senior MechE  

    We need to make a clear distinction between some finals and others. For example, on Monday, I have an open book final in an easy class and a closed book final in a hard class. In the amount of time I have spent studying for the latter final, I could've written a 20 page paper, assuming I can write a page an hour.

    However, I'm probably going to study for maybe 3 hours for the open-book final, and I'm probably going to do better on it, too.

    • Anonymous

      You study 3 hours for an open book final? I hope you mean spending three hours printing off any Wikipedia article and blog that could be related.

      • Senior MechE  

        Many open-book finals don't give you enough time to complete the exam if you have to look everything up. For this reason, knowing the information is still necessary...or at least knowing exactly where to look it up.

  19. Anonymous  

    Wow, you all sound like douche bags.

  20. Anonymous  

    yo i got me a paper and final (for the same class) on Monday! yay!

  21. ...  

    exams are hard because you have to meet the expectations set by someone else.

    papers are hard because you have to meet the expectations set by yourself.

    neither are particularly fun.

  22. Foner rotted my brain

    Mine eyes have seen the glory of the daybreak reference room,
    Where I quickly highlighe pages to ward off impending doom.
    "Hold on, she has a tattoo?..if only facebook let us zoom!"
    But it's all okay, because at least the But's a pretty tomb.

    I have a toothbrush here this dawn at my spot on Butler 3,
    But I also have a laptop and surf youtube constantly.
    I haven't slept in days nor have I worked productively.
    But it's all okay, I'm not premed, I study humanity.

    Glory, finals are a biiiiiitch.
    Glory, finals are a biiiiiitch.
    Glory, finals are a biiiiiitch,
    But break keeps coming closer!

    "Roar, Lions, Roar" I can't but hum sarcastically,
    While slowly others enter two by two and three by three.
    If I burned this damn place to the ground, would then we all be free?
    God help me if I have no choice, finals shouldn't mess with me.

    In the beauty of 1020 I will celebrate defeat,
    On the day my GPA declares unconditional retreat!
    I'm not gonna get hired anyway, I have no one to beat.
    Oh, how nice it'll feel when I finally sleep atop a sheet.

    Glory, finals are a biiiiitch.

  23. Mowsh  

    Good luck to mowshowitz's c2005 students. You will hate the final.

  24. Anonymous

    Is it just my art hum instructor, or are all of them absolutely ridiculous this semester. Three 5pg papers, eight times I had to go somewhere to do something for this class, a professor that is a grammar Nazi (as in took away points on the mid term for misspelling foreign words and graded the papers harder than anything I ever taken here, btw I'm a Sr. that put off art hum), expects a precise interpretation of the art as how she sees it, and for the final hands us a list with over 50 vocab words, and 45 works of art to memorize, and the readings were being tested on are cumulative. This class is making me hate my life. CC, music and lit hums were simple compared to this class. I feel like I' getting royally screwed over by who I got for art hum.

  25. Anon

    Let's assume for a moment that science exams aren't regurgitation and that a UW paper doesn't reflect the difficulty of a typical humanities.

    The real question is, does the evaluation method for your major work relatively well for you? If you can deal enough to get through your major and learn deeply about whatever interests you, that's about as good as it will get. Eventually, we'll get out into the real world and romanticize the hell out of this whole experience.

    But it doesn't mean I don't envy Hampshire College students right now.

  26. You got the wrong song

    That song doesn't work for the tune of the Battle Hymn of the Republic.

    It DOES work for "When Johnny Comes Marching Home Again."

    Thank God there wasn't a song section on the Foner final.

    History Major Fail.

  27. Expert Procrastinator  

    Papers are so much worse for me. The longer they are, the more time I procrastinate starting them. As soon as I write a few lines, I go back to the internets. Hell on earth.

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