The Big 10 with Jeff D'Alessio, Dec. 9, 2018

The Big 10 with Jeff D'Alessio, Dec. 9, 2018

Rest easy, students. No matter what you're about to experience during this frazzle fest known as finals week, odds are, a UI faculty member nearby went through the same thing once upon a time. Today, in the first of two parts, we asked 10 UI educators to share a story from their own finals adventures as undergrads.

Professor of Germanic Languages and Literatures

"I was taking my first German literature exam. I answered the three essay questions, had plenty of time to review them, and realized all the other students were still scribbling away.

"So I re-read all three questions, thinking I had missed something. Fairly sure I had covered everything, I stood up, handed in the exam and went to lunch.

"That evening, I ran into someone from the class who asked how I could possibly have answered all four questions and leave the exam so early. Four? Oh, no. There was a fourth essay topic on the back of the sheet, which I had missed.

"First thing the next day, I went to the professor's office prepared to plead ignorance. When I arrived, this very kind German professor smiled at my worried appearance and said: 'You didn't see that fourth question, did you?' No, I had not. I swallowed hard, hoping he would allow me to write it then and there.

"He went on: 'Two of you obviously did not see it. Since the answers to the three other essays were absolutely fine, I will grade the exam on the basis of those three. Go home and have a good break.'

"Ende gut, alles gut." (German-to-English translation: All's well that ends well).

Professor of Food Chemistry

"Finals can be loosely defined as an attempt to absorb a semester's worth of material in just a few days. Unless those few days turn into just a few hours, which is exactly what happened to me the second semester of my freshman year.

"It was around 11 p.m., and I was wrapping up a pretty good day of studying for my chemistry final, which was the next evening. For some reason, before heading to bed I thought I would recheck my finals schedule. It was then that I discovered that my physics final was not three days away, but the very next morning at 8 a.m.

"After the initial shock and horror wore off, I decided to stay up all night studying to get as ready as possible. By the time 8 a.m. rolled around, the activity I was most prepared for was not the exam, but rather a nap. My thinkin' was truly stinkin'. All I remember is randomly plugging numbers into my calculator, just hoping for the best."

Dean Emeritus, Gies College of Business

"As a first-semester freshman at Bradley University, I took a couple of general education courses that were quite large.

"As we approached finals week, I was feeling very stressed. I had spent the 15-week semester doing a good job in my courses, but now this single three-hour final exam was going to determine nearly half of my grade.

"The first of these finals was one of the large enrollment courses I mentioned above. About 25 minutes into the exam, a student down near the front stood up and shouted at the professor that the exam was ridiculously hard and a person would need a Ph.D. to pass it. He then ripped up his exam booklet and stormed out of the auditorium.

"I later found out it was just a prank; the student was not even enrolled in the course. But, at the time it happened, I believed it hook, line and sinker and was convinced that I had no chance at passing this final. I never recovered enough to salvage much out of that final, but somehow I did pass the course."

Director, Basic Language Instruction of French and Italian

"As an undergraduate at the University of Bologna (in Italy), my finals were definitely high-stake, as course grades depended entirely on them. They were also all oral exams, so there was the added pressure of being interrogated by a group of professors with whom I had had minimal personal interaction until that day.

"The exam I remember best was Medieval History, for which — beside reading a large amount of essays — we were supposed to memorize the whole list of Popes during the Middle Ages. The conversation with the committee would turn to a particular event — a war, a battle or the like — and then the much-dreaded question would inevitably be asked: 'Who was the Pope at that time?' A wrong answer would always result in a failing grade.

"During my exam, I aced the answer with the right Pope and received a high grade, but in subsequent weeks very quickly forgot the list I had so carefully memorized. Was it success or rather failure?"

Assistant Professor of Physics

"One year, I managed to mix up two of my finals. On Tuesday afternoon, I went to the room where I thought I was supposed to have a final exam for one of my physics classes.

"I came early, sat down in an empty room, and waited ... and waited ... and eventually looked up my exam schedule again, to discover that the exam I was all ready to take was actually scheduled for Thursday afternoon, and I was supposed to be taking a different final exam two buildings over instead.

"I was very lucky to have mixed up the exams in the order that I did — the exam I hadn't studied for miraculously went very well, and I got an extra two days to study for the harder physics exam. But I don't think that accidentally making my studying time more efficient was really worth that hour of sheer unmitigated panic."

Professor, Department of Communication

"I had two undergraduate careers. The first can be summed up in one word: fail.

"I was curious but utterly undisciplined. When I got tired of a class, I just quit going. Sometimes I turned in assignments, and sometimes I did not. This reckless approach to my class work did nothing for my GPA. Clearly, I was struggling.

"The memorable moment came when I went to take a final and discovered that I was a day late. I stood on the stairs outside the classroom building and looked over the campus, and thought: 'I have to get a grip.'

"Years later, when I had my second undergraduate career, I was older and wiser, and eventually successful. And today, when students clearly struggle, I have a lot more empathy than they might think. But sometimes, they too have to fail to succeed."

Professor Emerita, Founding Director of Family Resiliency Center

"By the time finals came every semester, I was usually broke. I remember one year spending my last $2.50 on a half-gallon of Breyers vanilla ice cream.

"Though this is not a tactic I recommend, it did get me through finals week with a smile."

Director, National Center for Supercomputing Applications

"I was an undergrad at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, back in the '70s. When I really needed a break, I would walk down the hill behind the dorms to Baskin-Robbins and get a cup of mint chocolate chip ice cream. Even in the snow.

"And there was setting my stereo to play the finale of the '1812 Overture,' to ensure that I got up in time for my final."

Assistant Professor of Communication

"In college, I was always worried that I would oversleep and miss an important exam. This was back in the old days, before I had a cellphone.

"My clock radio had a radio or a single alarm option. I had learned to sleep through both. So, on exam days, I would set multiple alarm clocks. At one point, I had worked my way up to setting three different alarms — the clock radio, my wristwatch and a travel alarm clock.

"Today, cellphones offer a variety of alarm options, so I can always rotate them if I get used to one setting. Even so, sometimes I still do set a back-up alarm."

Professor of Computer Science

"I remember being very frightened of my final exams. During one exam as an undergrad at Berkeley, I walked in, sat down at my desk, looked at the exam and completely froze.

"I couldn't think of how to answer any questions at all.

"I realized I was just panicking and so just forced myself to calm down.

"After a few minutes, I went back to the exam, answered all the questions — most of them very well — and left the exam early.

"In the end, I had done very well on the exam, but only because I got over how frightened I was."

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