It’s the final countdown: students prepare for first finals season after year of virtual learning


Neve Marin Rue Galmarini

Students returning to online finals week worry about a loss of leniency compared to last year’s finals.

Bordering the two week long Winter Break, Finals Week is filled with tests, final projects, and panicked last-minute studying. As Finals Week creeps up on students, memories of pre-COVID finals hover over their heads as they return to the routinely stress-provoking week after over a year of unconventional, virtual learning.

During the 2020-2021 school year, AWHS classes were fully virtual until Apr. of 2021. Many AWHS teachers adopted more lenient test requirements, even allowing students access to notes during tests. This year, students are trying to transition out of this mindset going into their finals.

AWHS freshman, sophomore, and senior History teacher Raquel Nelson adjusted her finals last year to give students the opportunity to succeed without having a large final test. 

“Last year was radically different, and I just gave students the opportunity to either revise their work or to talk to me about what they had learned. I wanted to give [students] an opportunity to really be able to end on the strongest note as they could,” Nelson said.

This year, Nelson and her teaching partner, AWHS English teacher Beth Freedman, returned back to the way they ran their finals before online schooling. Using presentations, essays, and group learning assessments rather than actual tests for students, Nelson hopes to highlight students’ growth in her classes. 

“This year, because we’re back in person, my partner and I have worked to go back to the presentation mode,” Nelson said.

After a year of non-traditional finals, AWHS students have had to readjust to harsher expectations through traditional tests and quizzes.

“It was really hard to focus last year so that definitely affected my learning,” said AWHS sophomore, Samantha (Sammy) Gerner.

Nelson has also noticed a change in students’ feelings towards finals compared to years past. With minimal finals during the 2020-2021 school year, Nelson has noticed increased stress among underclassmen, as they have never taken finals before.

“The level of anxiety overall that I have witnessed for students is much higher than in any other year, including even last year,” Nelson said.

AWHS senior Drew Samway experienced in-person finals before COVID-19, and even with that experience, he notices the difficult adjustment back to in-person tests after a year online.

“I only had one final [last year] and it wasn’t worth 15 percent of my grade, it was just worth a little bit, versus this year, I have like five finals and they’re all worth like 15 percent of my grade,” Drew said.

Many students have found it difficult to recall material covered in virtual class last year, making their classes more challenging this year. 

“I feel like some classes didn’t cover all the content they were supposed to cover last year, so then this year the teachers assume that we have a lot of knowledge…we don’t actually have because of COVID…,” Drew said. “[Teachers] just kind of moved on and didn’t explain the stuff that we missed last year, and so there’s a lot of stress about learning almost two years worth of knowledge packed into one year.”

Although some students feel unprepared for finals, other students feel that their teachers are continuing last year’s leniency into this year’s finals. Junior Dunara Senadheera opted to learn in a fully virtual environment for the entirety of the 2020-2021 school year, so her first time back in-person was in Aug. 2021 at the beginning of this school year. Dunara felt the weight of returning back to school with traditional finals but acknowledges the effort her teachers are putting in to accommodate students.

“I feel like my teachers have made [finals] more calming in a way because they know the situation that students are in,” Dunara said. “I would say that out of my seven classes I have three finals, which is nice.”

Similar to Dunara, Sammy is grateful for the leniency offered by her teachers in regards to this year’s finals.

“A lot of my classes are being very lenient and making it so the final doesn’t affect our grade that much,” Sammy said. “A lot of my teachers are making it so, if you did well before, it wouldn’t really matter as much with your final.”

Though finals can be different from other tests during the year, Drew feels that finals that make up a large percentage of students’ grades are unnecessary.

“I personally feel that finals, in general, are unnecessary because a class should be judged off of the effort you give and not what you show on tests,” Drew said. “Having one big thing that takes up 15 percent of your grade, if you’re not a good test taker, it could ruin your grade.”

Like Drew, Sammy doesn’t fully see the benefit of finals.

“It’s a lot to remember, and if you can’t look at notes or something, I just don’t get what the benefit is of having to study so much and recall everything you’ve learned in the semester,” Sammy said.

Nelson attempts to achieve a less stressed Finals Week for her students by assigning final projects rather than tests.

“I know that a lot of teachers think that finals should represent what students are going to experience in college. I understand that…I believe that our students deserve a way to demonstrate their knowledge in the best way possible for the individual student,” Nelson said.

As the stress begins, AWHS upperclassmen relive their past finals experiences and underclassmen miss the sense of leniency from last year online. Once the first Finals Week back in-person ends, students will be able to put their stresses behind them and enjoy their Winter Break.