Today, I want to discuss three topics that many Wash U students face during the last few weeks of the semester: Reading Week and finals. After “surviving” my last few weeks of papers, tests, presentations, and exams, I have gathered quite a list of tips for you all!
In this post, (Finals- Part I) I will focus on Reading Week, papers, and presentations. In my next post (Finals- Part II), I will discuss final exams and performances (concerts, workshops, and juries).
Let me start off with Reading Week. This is the time where Wash U students fill up Olin Library (some even bring blankets and bags of food in with them!) in order to study without distractions.
Now the name “Reading Week” itself is a bit misleading. A week is seven days long, but Reading Week isn’t a whole week. It’s actually just a period of three school days (Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday), and if you count the weekend (Saturday and Sunday), then it only adds up to a total of five days.
I have to admit, despite being good at managing time, I still feel like the short Reading Week period isn’t enough to completely study a whole semester’s material for multiple courses. Reading Week, instead, should be a period when you review material that you have already studied and touch up on papers/notes/presentations that you have already worked on previously.
Of course, it is impossible to “finish” everything before Reading Week. For example, if you have a 10-page paper due on the last day of school, do *not* begin the paper during Reading Week! Instead, at least write the first half before Reading Week, just so you would have more time to revise and strengthen the argument.
This sounds much easier than it is to do, though. My advice is to finish things as soon as you can (so that work does not end up piling up) so that you won’t be super stressed out about the lack of time in the end.
Ok, now that we’ve got the basics of Reading Week down, let’s compare the ways in which professors test their students: Papers, Presentations, and Exams.
I am going to begin by discussing my preferred method of a “Final”: a paper. As a fairly lazy college student who prefers eating food, listening to background music, and working late at night, a final paper sounds way more convenient than an exam.
I like to separate exams from papers by one thing: memorizing versus learning. A paper tests the latter of the two more so than the first. This semester, three of my seven classes required a written essay at the end of the semester. These papers are meant to replace a final exam; and since they also test a student’s ability to integrate all that they have learned throughout the semester, they are also meant to be more challenging than a written exam. This is because the route memorizing strategy does not apply to exams.
For example, I took a music history class that is also categorized as a “comparative literature class” called Romantic Revolutions in European Music History and Culture. The final paper required students to write an argument essay, and our topic was to come up with an original argument about the lead female’s death scene of the opera, La Traviata. This required me to use skills I have accumulated throughout the semester: listening to the opera, watching the opera, analyzing the dialogue, reading the sheet music, and researching the primary and secondary sources regarding the scene. Additionally, I also had to argue my viewpoint and support it with my research.
I would like to share my introduction paragraph with everyone:
Consuming the Immorality
“Opera concerns woman…they suffer, they cry, they die,” describes French writer Clement in her 1979 book on female operatic characters. In her text, she explains the most common image of women seen in the nineteenth-century opera narrative: the image of a dying heroine, punished for transgressing social norms. The image is seen in works like Lucia di Lammermoor and Carmen. Most of these operas portray a female lead actress who temporarily breaks out of societal rules, but ultimately meets a tragic end as punishment for her immoral behavior. However, this image does not apply entirely in the final scene in Verdi’s La Traviata. The heroine of this opera, Violetta, is a courtesan who suffers from consumption and ultimately dies from her illness. In Violetta’s death scene, Verdi portrays a character who dies as a dignified woman. This heroine, instead of being fully punished for her previous scandalous lifestyle, appears more respectable because she partially redeems herself. Although Violetta still dies from consumption, her ability to earn the forgiveness of both Germont and Alfredo suggests that her social standing does not define her moral standing.
 Catherine Clement, Opera: The Undoing of Women, p. 11.
 I used the James Levine (1981) production of La Traviata from Metopera.org.
Next, I want to talk about presentations! These are usually the most exciting ones and also the most entertaining ones. This semester, I had three final presentations. The first one was in Fifth-Level Modern Chinese II, the second in Romantic Revolutions in European Music and Culture, and the third in Modern and Contemporary Chinese Literature.
The best thing about presentations is that they are open to interpretation; however, the bad thing is (at least from my own experience) figuring out when to work on them with other students. I personally like individual presentations better than group presentations, just so I can work on them during my own free time.
This semester, I had two individual presentations and one group presentation (for four students). My favorite one is the individual presentation I did for my Modern and Contemporary Chinese Literature course. I had to present about a creative fan-fiction work that I wrote earlier on the month. The fan-fiction was a sequel to Zhu Tianwen’s “Fin-de-siècle Splendor,” which was a short story about a young model absorbed with the senses in the modernizing Taipei. I titled my sequel “Post-Splendor Nostalgia,” and set it 40 years after the original story. In my sequel, the older version of the protagonist reflects upon her past.
Here is an excerpt of the first three sentences of my sequel:
She stares at her own reflection gleaming on the surface of the flower vase to her left. This stranger eerily stares back at Mia; she has hair as gray and dry as the sky outside, skin as withered as a parched rose removed from water, and teeth as jaundiced as a Carter’s Ink Company’s highlighter. Mia, once a fleeting spectacle on the runway, is now a haunting spectacle impossible to eliminate.
In my presentation, I had a few minutes to “sell” my fan-fiction to my class. Every student did the same for their own works. In the end, we all submitted out top two votes to the professor. It was a lot of fun!!
~ Nancy <3