The five stages of finals

Image of Mitski standing with her arm above her head and her eyes closed.
Mitski’s “Washing Machine Heart” intertwines an upbeat track with melancholic lyrics, a blend that speaks to the emotionally volatile atmosphere that final exams bring upon campus. (Photo courtesy of IMDb)

Well folks, as the semester’s end approaches, finals are imminent. I am by no means an expert, but I am a practiced procrastinator, which is why I want to pass along the trace amounts of wisdom that I’ve learned in regard to a successful finals season. 

Stage one: The calm before the storm

The week before Thanksgiving is always peaceful and quiet. I bet you are thinking, “I’ve got this covered! I’ll make a schedule and I’ll really stick to it.” 

This is false, and you are naive. 

In order to start preparing for what will inevitably be your undoing, I recommend listening to some confusingly upbeat tunes. 

For this stage, I recommend a Spotify playlist called False Joy. All the songs on it sound happy, but when you really listen, they are actually incredibly sad. Your body will process the joy of Mitski’s “Washing Machine Heart,” but your brain will begin to process the future pain. 

Stage two: PANIC!

AHHHH! You didn’t budget your time well and now it’s time to panic about your impending doom. My advice is to try and lock yourself in a safe environment, such as the Annenberg Digital Lounge. 

Treat yourself to an Illy Cafe waffle and an overpriced latte. Plug in your headphones and blast thoughts out of your head with some classic movie scores. I find that listening to movie scores is motivating but doesn’t distract me with lyrics. My go-to plug in song is “The Secret Life of Daydreams” from the Jean-Yves Thibaudet 2005 film “Pride and Prejudice” soundtrack. Luckily, Spotify is loaded with playlists of scores to match whatever mood you’re feeling besides panic. 

Stage three: Overcomplication nation 

So now you’ve addressed the root of the problem. Finals are coming, and it’s study days. The future is bright. You can see the light at the end of the tunnel. It feels so close that you start to fill up your days. Maybe you think that if you spend four hours at Doheny Memorial Library on this project, you can finish it quickly and then the next four hours you’ll spend studying for your oral Spanish exam. 

Do not overcomplicate things. I find that everytime I make a hyperdetailed schedule, I just end up disappointing myself when I don’t finish everything. Productivity does not determine your self worth. If you truly do not have it in you to study then take a break. Do a face mask, clean your whole room and light a candle. Prioritize your mental well being and listen to some ABBA, Earth, Wind & Fire or Marvin Gaye. 

Stage four: Screaming, crying and throwing up

I know I said prioritize self-care, and that is the main priority, but with $70,000 tuition, you may also feel the need to perform well in your classes. I know I do. So now it’s time to scream, cry and throw up in the place where dreams go to die: Leavey Library.

My methodology with doing work in Leavey is simple — it is so miserable that you’re going to do anything to get out. If writing your 10-page paper or studying for your Organic Chemistry exam is your task of the day, then Leavey will suck it out of you.

Take a deep breath and listen to these songs in this order. First “Cellophane” by FKA Twigs, next “Class of 2013” by Mitski and lastly “brutal” by Olivia Rodrigo. Remind yourself that first and foremost you are a girlboss who is going to succeed regardless of what is thrown your way. 

Stage five: Relief

The moment is here. You’ve either just hit submit on your final project or made a graceful and classy exit from your last exam. You exit whatever brick building you were in and take a deep breath. You’re free. 

I can’t lie, I cry at the end of almost every semester from pure relief. Now it’s time to celebrate. Do something you’ve always wanted to do but are too afraid to try. Buy yourself a cupcake from the Sprinkles vending machine or splurge on a matcha latte from Dulce. The soundtrack to your life at this moment should be something deliriously happy such as “Deceptacon” from Le Tigre, “The Spins” by Mac Miller or “Be Sweet” by Japanese Breakfast.

Pat yourself on the back for finishing your first, 100th or last USC finals season. Hopefully these songs and tips can help you fight on through finals with minimal stress.