[M.M.X.I.V. 342] Finals Week framing

Happy Finals Week to undergrads and early-career graduate students at Northwestern!  (Or, good luck on exams and papers that you get to finish this week!)  As it turns out, that prompts me to write about framing of exams.

When I was a junior in high school, one of my favorite classes was AP Psychology with Mr. McEntarffer.  He made the subject a lot of fun, and he is quite a character as well… ha! (He liked to use the expression “ha” quite a bit in class, and on assignment sheets).

One of the concepts that we learned was the idea of framing.  As a result, the tests in the class were not called tests.  Instead, after a little bit of deliberation within the class, we decided to re-name all of the class’s exams as Learning Festivals.  That way, studying for them was more like psyching myself up for going to a fair or a festival.  And I have had plenty of fun at festivals!

This, however, was not the first time that I heard “Quiz” or “Test” referred to by a euphemism.  Indeed, when I was in middle school, in Mr. Schulz’s band class, we learnt many terms in music theory.  On a somewhat-regular basis, he gave us “Opportunities To Show What You Know In Written Form For A Grade.”  I actually wrote down in my planner once, “OTSWYKIWFFAG.”  Yay for completely useless acronyms!

In my sophomore year of college, with the NCAA tournaments in volleyball and basketball fairly fresh in my mind (Nebraska’s women’s volleyball won the championship that year, and women’s basketball made the tournament for the first time in this century that year), it gave me a framing idea for Finals Week.  Yep, I set it up as if it were a single-elimination tournament… because on the surface, the exams were going to go from easiest to hardest.

The Finals Week of Spring 2007 was a four-day tournament (the N.C.A.E. Tournament = Noah’s Collegiate Academic Endeavours), with one game each day.  Day 1 featured the 6-seed Noah against the 11-seed Physics 231 (Circuits).  Although I started out strong on the game, I somewhat faded near the end as the questions got tougher.  I still managed to squeak out the win, and ended up with an A in the course.

Day 2 was the Wednesday, as I took on Math 439 (Mathematical Models in Biology).  As it turns out, I was well prepared for this exam, and in retrospect, felt that it was the end of a Cinderella story–I marked that class as the 14-seed which knocked off the 3-seed in the Sweet Sixteen round.  When all was said and done with that exam, I scored a 97% and got an A in the course as well.

Day 3 had me facing the 2-seed, Judaic Studies 217 (History of Israel).  Despite the fact that I knew some of Israel’s history before taking the course, it was still a tough course, particularly because there was SO MUCH READING that I had to do in it.  The Final Four match featured definitions and essays, with the identity of Israel and Herzl’s vision of the Jewish state what I wrote about.  I felt pretty good about my results, although my course grade was not an A.  Humanities courses were mostly just for distributional requirements for me.

And then came the Championship Game: against Physics 311 (Advanced Newtonian Mechanics).  This course had been incredibly difficult for most of the semester–the average score on Exam 1 was 70%, and on Exam 2 was 35% (!!).  I only felt partially confident about two of the questions.  So, the first match was hard, the second was impossible, and this game was advanced-impossible.  According to my thoughts, I LOST this match, although it may have been the “Fission Mailed” style of loss.  I somehow survived the course with a B or a B-minus.

Still, I feel that this story is a way to maybe calm yourself about final exams.  Think of it as a Learning Festival, or think of competing in a tournament.  This framing might not work for everyone, but there is definitely a way to frame it so that you don’t freak out!

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Today is the three-hundred and forty-second day of M.M.X.I.V.  That makes forty-eight weeks and six days.

Today is the three-hundred and forty-fourth day of Mission 441.  Ninety-seven days remain.

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