May 9, 2023

GUEST ROOM | Two Possible Improvements to Finals Week

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It is already May. Very soon, Cornell students will fight through final exam after final exam in an effort to excel in one of the toughest academic programs out there. As a freshman, this will be my second time going through the final exam period. Even though five months have already passed, my first experience of finals, from December 7-19, still remains vivid in my mind. I am hoping that my reflections of that period can help the school administration make some relatively easy improvements to the student experience during final exam week.

First of all, let me be clear that my experience back in December was generally positive. For example, I do recall that, to my pleasant surprise, food quality across dining halls was noticeably improved during finals week. Apparently, Cornell wanted to make sure their students were nourished well during the most draining stretch of a semester, and this gesture had been well received by the student body. That being said, as freshmen who kept communicating and comparing notes with our highschool friends from other universities, my Cornell friends and I sometimes wondered why it seemed that, in some ways, the grass did appear greener on the other side last December. 

There are some specific steps that the University could take to help ameliorate students’ quality of life during the exam week. These steps would be relatively easy to implement: They would not require adjusting the structure of the exam period and would not come with a significant financial burden, either. 

One major source of controversy is the fact that Cornell has final exams on weekends. This practice, however, is at least understandable, since otherwise the exam period would drag on longer into the breaks. However, what was hard to understand back in December was that the operating hours of most places on campus were not adjusted accordingly to accommodate weekend exams.

Last December, Okenshields dining room and almost all cafes on Central campus weren’t open on weekends, so students needed to walk to West or North campus to eat in between weekend exams or while studying on Central. In addition, students with morning exams on Sunday had very limited breakfast options. There were many complaints that students on West campus needed to walk all the way to North campus (easily a 20-minute walk) just to eat a warm breakfast before their early morning 9 a.m. exams on Sunday, December 11.

For those who preferred to study in libraries, unfortunately, the main libraries all closed at 6 p.m. on Friday and Saturday evening, leaving just a few locations open for studying in the evening. There was no shortage of complaints on social media platforms about this annoyance.

These restrictive opening hours caused unnecessary inconveniences for students just trying to get through a stressful week. When my friends and I talked to our highschool friends, it seemed inconceivable to them that Cornell closed libraries as early as 6 p.m. in the middle of final exams. As such, I would urge Cornell to extend library and dining hours during the upcoming exam period, due to the sheer number of students grinding late into the night. Being able to grab a late-night snack or coffee during finals week almost feels like a necessity. At the very least, Cornell should adjust the weekend hours of cafes, dining rooms and libraries to weekday schedules on the three weekend exam days.

My second suggestion is not for the upcoming exam period in May, but rather, for future winter exam periods One factor affecting Cornell students’ mental health during the winter is that unfortunately, the sun sets very early at Ithaca, at around 4:30 p.m. every day in December. Students frequently find themselves walking through the darkness when returning from studying or when going to grab dinner. Considering students’ irregular sleep schedules during finals week, some students may only see four or five hours of sunlight each day. While it might be nice to just move Cornell to California in the winters, a more realistic solution is for the University to put up more holiday lights on frequently trafficked areas of campus, such as Feeney Way, the Arts Quad and Ho Plaza. December exams take place during the holiday season, and seeing more colored lights instead of walking in darkness would help lighten the mood for students.

Don’t get me wrong, I know that Cornell and the Cornellian community are very warm and supportive. Still, I really hope that the University can consider implementing these two very practical suggestions. They are not too difficult to implement, nor are very expensive, and they are widely practiced in other universities.They could go a long way to improving students’ physical and mental health during final exams, and they will definitely make students here feel more proud of being a Cornellian. 

Kevin Liu ‘26 is a freshman in the College of Engineering. Comments can be sent to [email protected]. Guest Room runs periodically this semester.