In 1941, a Swiss electrical engineer named George de Mestral was walking with his dog in the Alps. As both he and his dog brushed up against the surrounding vegetation, George began to wonder why burdock seeds were sticking to his wool socks and his coat, as well as to his dog. Out of curiosity, he decided to look at the burrs under a microscope, where he discovered tiny “hooks” in their surface that stuck them to fabrics and furs. Mestral, after experimenting with a variety of textiles, found he could manufacture a material with the same tiny hooks—out of nylon, that had the ability to stick to other fibers in a similar way. This invention, known as Velcro, proved to be a new, efficient, and reliable way of fastening things together, and is one of history’s greatest serendipitous discoveries.
Since what may as well be the beginning of time, students have gone to school and had their performance and knowledge of material assessed by some form of examination. In law school, the “final exam” brings to mind timeless and harrowing images of students shut away in large wooden rooms straining over pen and paper, toggling between some existential worry over the exam itself, and a broader heartache over the neurosis of law firms’ sordid infatuation with first year grades.
Other than the advent of the Scantron, and students over time writing their exam answers on computers instead of by hand, the setting, schedule, and convocation of final exams has hardly ever changed.
(What does this have to do with Velcro, you ask? Read on.)
Headaches, nausea, shortness of breath, and feelings of exhaustion. I’m not talking about Covid; these are all negative side effects of stress. As law students, we are likely familiar with managing stress, especially during finals season. In the midst of the madness, there are a few consequences of stress that actually benefit us:
When you’re about to hit that begin test button on Examplify and a knot forms in the pit of your stomach, it can actually be helpful. This is because moderate stress strengthens the neural connections in your brain which enhances memory and attention span, and increases productivity.
In a UC Berkeley study, researchers found intermittent stressful events caused stem cells in rat brains to proliferate into new nerve cells that improved the rats’ mental performance.
“You always think about stress as a really bad thing, but it’s not… Some amounts of stress are good to push you just to the level of optimal alertness, behavioral and cognitive performance.”
Daniela Kaufer, associate professor of integrative biology at the University of California, Berkeley.
That explains why as a chronic procrastinator, the stress of an impending deadline is sometimes the only thing that can kick start getting my work done.
As I entered into the thick of finals, I found myself in the usual funk of the season. Whether it be the long hours studying, the unfortunate act of flipping through class notes only to find illegible scribbles, or the jealousy rising in me as I see people pass my window enjoying their afternoons–I cannot help but feel a bit grumpy about what I (and all other law students) are going through at the moment.
On top of the usual irritability, I am painfully aware that this is my fifth time heading into finals. As a 3L, I have found myself dragging my feet more this time around. I have admittedly become a bit more impatient with tough concepts, lackluster in my study habits, and generous with my study breaks.
Beyond chuckling at the images of Prof. Bloom and the class showing off their goofy sweaters, I felt a rush of nostalgia. I had completely forgotten about my own section’s Ugly Sweater Contest two years ago. Cooped up in a Civil Procedure review session, I remember laughing at both the fashion choices of my classmates and Professor Bloom’s zany commentary along the way. It was such a pleasant (and needed) break from stressing over what would be my first ever law school exam–a lighter moment to share with the people that had filled my life over the semester and who were going through the same taxing time.
Almost there. These are the last few weeks, the final stretch, and you can see the light at the end of the tunnel. Sure, it’s a red, angry light – not the warm, golden glow you were hoping for – but that’s show business. Papers are due, and exams are right around the corner. This was never going to be the fun part of the semester.
Still, when you’re done, you’ll be done. For at least a little while, there will be no impending assignments to complete or grade-points to score (and if you don’t move, the summer job application deadlines can’t see you). Winter break will be a time for seeing family, celebrating whatever holidays you observe, and most decidedly NOT reading court cases about the axioms of contract interpretation.
The 2Ls and 3Ls have run this race before. For the 1Ls, Travis pulled together a great compilation of helpful final exam advice, so I’ll not bore readers with too much more of my own. Instead, I thought I’d just offer a few quick thoughts about wrapping up the semester, and the break that follows:
We’re gearing up to enter reading days and next week and final exams will be upon us soon. Over the years, BC Law Impact has offered lots of advice to students about how to prepare and how to manage stress. I put a few of our most widely-read posts below.
Travis Salters is a second-year student at BC Law and Vice President of the Impact blog. Contact him at email@example.com.
While finals week always seems to creep up on me, I still find myself making the same unpleasant preparations at this time every year. I have deleted social media apps on my phone that I typically spend way too much time on, stocked up on coffee and snacks, and have told my friends and loved ones not to bother me for the next few weeks.
As I have begun to delve into yet another round of days studying followed by a sequence of hours-long tests, I find myself clinging on to the idea that this will all be over soon–that I just have to get through the next couple of weeks and then I can enjoy that post-finals joy.
So, as a reminder to myself that this is all temporary, or maybe just some needed motivation to continue on, I have collected a few students’ thoughts on their feelings post-finals. Enjoy and good luck everyone!
The Fall 2020 semester has (finally?) come to a close. 2Ls and 3Ls finished exams on the 12th, and the 1L exam period ended on the 18th. Congratulations to all on surviving one strange semester! Although it seems like next semester will mostly look the same (large classes online, many smaller classes in-person, and a fully-virtual option), the recent news on the vaccines has me optimistic.
We’re also excited to share that we broke our all-time record for readers this year: more than 34,000 people viewed over 55,000 pages of Impact content in 2020 (and counting).
Don’t forget to subscribe to the brand new Just Law podcast on all your favorite podcast platforms. We are excited to continue sharing our stories with you in 2021, but until then, happy holidays! Stay safe and enjoy this (extremely long) winter break. See you next year!
Courtney Ruggeri is a third-year student and president of the Impact blog. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
During the past spring semester, I authored a blog post about how I missed the free coffee served by the BC Law cafeteria during the final exam period. During my 1L fall semester, I relied on that free coffee like a car relies on gas or a legislative body relies on annoying words like “heretofore.” I may have broken even on my tuition costs with the way I consumed that free coffee during 1L finals.
Of course, I was missing the free on-campus coffee last spring because I was not, in fact, on campus. No one was, due to the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic.
During those early months, things were strange and unfamiliar. You could feel the tension in the air. No one quite knew how the virus would spread, how disruptive it would be, and how long it would rage. Here at BC Law, classes (rightfully, in my opinion) were shifted to pass/fail grading while students and professors acclimated to the remote learning format.
As the Impact blog covered earlier in the semester, BC’s decision to go pass/fail led to a flurry of responses and emotions. Some were disappointed by the inability to boost their GPAs, while others were relieved to know that this meant they could dedicate more time to navigating the COVID crisis. But with exams just around the corner, I found myself reflecting on the meaning of exams and grades in law school.
Sure, at first after the pass/fail decision I thought to myself, “What exactly does passing mean and how much work do I really need to put in to get that passing grade?” Even with these looming thoughts, I still found myself regularly attending (Zoom) classes, keeping up with my readings, and getting a start on my outlines for finals. And I do not think I am alone here.