As exams begin to wind down, Bwog advocatus diaboli John Sarlitto defends what has been making your life a living hell since Friday: the in-class final.
“How many finals do you have?” you might hear someone ask in those heady twilight moments of the semester, before the darkness and the shadows truly set in. A common enough response goes something like, “Four, but it’s ok; two are take-homes.”
Friends, set aside my unconvincing attempt to simulate human dialogue—because this sentiment is definitively NOT ok.
I’m here to defend the much-maligned in-class final, but against what? Just as spiders have the basilisk and your stomach has weird John Jay meat, the in-class has an ancient enemy it fears above all others: the term paper. The voices of our ancestors have weighed in on their mortal combat before, and the contest will rage long after all of us are gone. This isn’t the place to resolve it. The take-home, however, is an unwelcome interloper. Somewhere between essay and exam, it embodies the worst elements of each.
The take-home is both more deceitful and more difficult than an in-class test. If you can complete it in the comfort of your single or Butler hellhole with the semester’s worth of books and unlimited resources at your disposal, you’d better believe that the standards are going to be higher. Imagine the most neurotic person in your class, and then what he or she will be doing with days to complete a test while you watch Hulu. That’s what you’re up against. In a 180-minute exam period, even that guy can only wreak so much havoc.
The questions will be harder and more incisive. They will be more numerous. They will be designed to ferret out the person whose involvement in the class began with the exam. Rightly so, perhaps, but your reading week will be its collateral damage. The take-home rejoices in this, because it enjoys lying to your face. Your professor might implore you not to worry about it, maybe to spend no more than x small number of hours completing it. To believe this would be an amateur’s mistake. You need to treat it like a paper, but with its very specific prompts and required readings, you get none of the satisfaction of creating and submitting a piece of original scholarship. You get only a headache and an opportunity for neurosis.
As those who sleep on the floors of public places routinely demonstrate, one can obsess over anything, and studying for in-class exams is certainly no fun. However, after three hours of torture, even the worst of them is finished. Plus, you get that day-of adrenaline rush, and the leniency of writing by hand in a bluebook. Don’t remember how to spell that distinguished historian’s name? Just capitalize the first letter and scribble away illegibly for an inch or so. Run out of time to write a conclusion? Odds are, no one will hold it against you. Cite a few of the readings and actually have a thesis, and you’ll earn that A-range grade you so covet. Even if you don’t, campus looks a bit brighter as you walk out, because, goddammit, you raced the clock and finished something.
So send the take-home back to the workshop of misery and deception from which it emerged. Flip over the page, read the instructions, you have until noon. Pick up your pen; you’ve got this. Begin.
“Sick Space Shot” via Wikimedia Commons, “Man”