As I finish a very unusual first half of my senior year at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, I reflect on what it’s been like taking classes remotely — more specifically, what it was like taking fully remote finals. I will admit that without a teacher reminding me in-person, I quickly grew to be overwhelmed by all that I had due, and I was scared going into it that I’d miss all my due dates. However, with all the help of my teachers via Zoom office hours, and the power of sticking to a schedule, I feel very confident that I did well on them.
UMass Amherst conducted finals week during the week following Thanksgiving break, and finals were all remote. This way students wouldn’t come back to the Amherst area after going home for a week to celebrate the holidays. Because of this, I took finals remotely from my hometown of Westport, Connecticut. My finals schedule consisted of the following: a five-page paper, an in class presentation, a 3,000-word magazine story, a self-reflection, and a 15-page proposal. Needless to say, I had a lot due and I wasn’t sure how I’d tackle it all.
I cannot stress the importance of making schedules — and this is coming from somebody who is not very regimented. To get myself through what I knew would be a semester of a lot of laziness, down time, and procrastination, I drafted ways I’d spend my time during the weeks I had big assignments due (down to the hour, which I will admit was obsessive — and I learned how to rationalize my school time and my down time). This came especially in handy during finals week — I’d dedicate specific days to work on certain assignments. Of course, writing out when to do what assignments wasn't hard — it was actually sticking to schedule. With more time to myself due to remote classes, I made sure I spent this effectively. This was easier to follow in school, being that I was in Amherst so there was somewhat an element of “normalcy” (after all, I only have known Amherst to be the area that I study at). It took a lot of willpower to actually do work being at home Connecticut — I just wanted to see my family. I made sure I got all my work done, and met with my teachers via Zoom when I needed to, but I probably would have been less distracted had I stayed in Amherst. Regardless, I was able to meet with my teachers just as easily at home, which I guess is one upside of attending classes via zoom.
Perhaps fitting to my majors (journalism and communication), I did not take a single test this semester — all of my assignments were either presentations or papers. I can’t tell if given the remote semester, this was a blessing or a curse! On the one hand, I didn’t have to try to adjust to taking exams in any sort of online forum, as all the papers I did have would’ve likely been submitted online, pandemic or not. On the other hand, a test could have been a nice break between the piles of papers I ultimately had to do. In my personal opinion, I’m stronger at writing papers and presenting than I am a test taker, so not having a test probably wasn’t the worst thing for me.
To get a better gist of taking remote exams, I asked people took them that I'm friends with. “Being remote helped me to some extent, but for two classes it made the exams impossible. Going back to check my answers was made a lot harder. I questioned myself a lot, then I ran out of time,” said Mari Goldstein, my roommate. Mari is a senior kinesiology major at UMass.
My friend KC Ruiz, a senior psychology major, had more critiques about taking her classes at home in general rather than her finals being exams. “Being in an at-home environment made it feel too relaxed,” she said. This may be sort of inevitable, when you’re supposed to be in study mode and you have your pets and family distracting you. Nonetheless, KC is glad with her end performance. “I just keep reminding myself I’m doing the best I can,” she said.
Strategies and Support for Success
If these two can vouch for anything, it’s the importance of time management. They both emphasized how important it was for them to be able to give themselves enough time to focus on their studies, but also focus on themselves. They made sure to not let the stress of the pandemic adversely affect their performance on their finals, and they both feel as though it paid off well.
With the combination of remote learning, accelerated semesters, and online finals, it’s hard not to get overwhelmed. Something I was extremely grateful for was how much my professors were willing to help me through this semester. All five of them made very clear from the start to end of the semester just how stressed they knew we would be living through the pandemic — especially as students. They made sure we knew they could be used as resources, whether that be to help with a class assignment, or even just someone to talk to. I think sometimes students, myself included, tend to forget that professors want to help us, get to know us, and guide us in any way they feel they can. During a pandemic, there’s not much more I think I could ask for. I pride myself UMass in showcasing such compassion and willingness to help during these unprecedented times.
All in all, remote finals (and classes in general), were obviously not ideal. However, with the help of time management, study breaks, and guidance by my professors, they were not unbearable. I tend to always over-work myself and get too stressed out during finals season, which is not unique to the pandemic. If this year's final season taught me anything, it's the importance of taking breaks and asking for help when you need it.