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Why is there a week before final exams and papers are due?
Harvard understands the time and preparation that is needed in order to synthesize a term's work of material. To help you best prepare for final papers, exams, projects, and presentations, the College designates a period of several days at the end of each term to work on culminating assignments and prepare for final exams. This week is included in the schedule to allow students the time and space to review material learned throughout the term. The specific dates of Reading Period are listed in the academic calendar on the Registrar's Office website.
Other than specific language courses and other individual classes, most academic courses do not meet during Reading Period. Some courses may hold optional review sessions, office hours, or sections.
Preparing for Final Examinations and Papers
Okay, I have a week before my final exams start. Am I supposed to study for 24 hours a day?
No student should study for 24 hours a day. However, each individual student studies and prepares for final assignments in different ways. The study method that works for your roommate or friend might not be the most effective strategy for you. Luckily, Harvard has a variety of resources to help with final exam and paper or project preparation. The process of finding the best method for you might be trial-and-error, but we hope that this list provides a helpful guideline for your Reading Period review.
Exam, Paper, and Project Preparation List
Many instructors or teaching teams will hold review sessions before final examinations to review material from the course and provide an opportunity for you to ask questions. To find out if a course is offering a review session, check-in with your instructor or Teaching Fellow (TF).
Many professors offer regularly-scheduled or additional office hours during Reading Period to allow students more individualized time to ask questions or review specific course content. Consult your instructor's office hour schedule for more information, or contact your instructor directly to schedule a one-on-one meeting to discuss your concerns. Instructors and faculty are often eager to help students during their scheduled office hours, so do not be intimidated to reach out to your instructor through email or after class to schedule a meeting. If you are not sure what questions to ask your instructor, consult some of our sample questions below:
How do you suggest that I best prepare for the end of this course?
Are there any additional resources or tools that you recommend using to learn the material in this course more effectively?
What are the most common mistakes students make in this course? How can these mistakes be avoided?
Can you explain the requirements and expectations for this specific assignment?
I have been struggling with [insert topic or assignment here]. Can you help me better understand this topic?
How does [insert topic here] relate to the larger themes of the course?
Can you explain what you were talking about in lecture on Tuesday about [insert topic here]?
I was really interested in the topic of yesterday's lecture. What can I do to learn more about it or frame an assignment around that topic?
Throughout the term and leading up to Exam Period, the Academic Resource Center (ARC) offers a variety of workshops meant to aid students in developing and strengthening their academic skills. Some end-of-semester workshop topics include scheduling your Reading Period, breaking down writing assignments, problem set strategies, preparing for open book exams, and more.
Studying with classmates or friends can be a productive, efficient, and fun way to review material before final examinations. Organize a small group of peers and meet virtually to go over course content, revisit problem set questions, or create study guides. For effective study groups, make sure that you have clear goals about what you want to accomplish, stick to a study schedule, and review the course collaboration policies. If you want more information on how to create a study group, check out the ARC's webpage on study groups.
Many courses collaborate with the ARC to provide Peer Tutors. Peer Tutors are trained peers who are available to provide individualized or group tutoring and academic support to other students. Learn more about Peer Tutors and find a variety of resources for specific course subjects that can help students during the term or during Reading and Examination Period.
Are you interested in learning more about your individual learning style and ideal study environment? Through the ARC, students can schedule appointments with academic coaches to discuss academic needs – whether that is discovering strategies that will help you synthesize materials more effectively, figuring out how to maximize your study time during Reading Period, developing a study plan while recovering from an illness or injury, or anything in between.
The Harvard Library provides a helpful Services and Tools page if you are looking to maximize your time and conduct your research more effectively. There, you can find different tools, webpages, and databases to help with research, studying, citations, and more.
Many academic courses opt for a final paper to be submitted by the end of the term. Harvard has multiple resources to help with paper writing during Reading and Examination Period and throughout the course of the term. The Harvard College Writing Center provides drop-in hours, writing resources, English Grammar and Language Tutor, source guides, and answers to frequently asked questions. You can also schedule an appointment with a writing tutor through their Writing Center Scheduler. If you are struggling with getting started on a final paper or breaking down a large writing assignment, consider scheduling an appointment with an Academic Coach.
We want to reiterate the importance of rest and recovery during Reading Period. In your Reading Period schedule, make sure you schedule time for whatever will help you best prepare for your exams while also staying healthy. Taking breaks, ensuring proper nutrition, and getting adequate sleep will help you maximize the time that you use to study and prepare for your final assessments.
Though taking breaks is extremely important during Reading Period, your breaks will be more effective and helpful if you find the study break activities that work best for you. Some restful activities to fit into your study breaks may include participating in workshops or meditation classes with the Center for Wellness and Health Promotion, or attending a Counseling and Mental Health Services (CAMHS) workshop. It is always helpful to plan ahead every semester, as there are many workshops that can help with anxiety, mindfulness, procrastination, and perfectionism, as well as support your overall wellbeing and academic success.
Policies on Missed Examinations and Student Absences
Help! I accidentally slept through my morning alarm, or I woke up feeling ill. What should I do?
There are many policies in place to help students who are unable to complete an exam or arrive late to their exam. Students who miss a final exam should report to their course instructor, who will determine the feasibility of a makeup examination. In the event that a student is late for the exam, the instructor may choose not to administer the exam and report the student as absent. Students who are late for a course-administered final exam should report directly to their instructor. No one will be admitted to an exam more than 30 minutes after it starts. Ordinarily, you will not be allowed to make up lost time if you are late.
For more specific information about examination rules and protocols, see the Examination Rules section of the Student Handbook. The Handbook addresses taking final exams in absentia, absences for religious reasons, absences due to illness, tardiness, and other specific details.
Though there are protocols in place to help with these situations, the best thing you can do is prepare and try to prevent them from happening. Make sure you are getting proper sleep, setting alarms, and taking any extra measures needed to ensure that you will wake up in time for your morning exam. Many students find it helpful to have a friend or family member check-in with them in the morning, before their examination time, in order to ensure that they are awake and prepared. Set out your exam materials the night prior to your final examination so that you do not have to worry about them on the day of the exam. Most importantly, do everything you can to stay healthy. Eat proper meals, get sleep during Reading Period, and take time to exercise or relieve stress. If you believe that you are ill, reach out to the necessary resources and visit HUHS or another medical facility.
Accommodations for Final Examinations
I think I need medical or disability-related accommodations for my final exams. How do I acquire these accommodations, what would the accommodations look like, and who should I contact about them?
The first step in seeking accommodations for a final exam is to reach out to the Disability Access Office (DAO) as far in advance as possible. The DAO, the Exams Office, and course staff will work closely to organize accommodations for students that need exam assistance. Some of the barriers and subsequent accommodations may relate to extended time, breaks, use of assistive technologies, and more. Visit the Exam Accommodations page on the DAO website to learn the specific detail. You can request accommodations by filling out DAO's registration form, providing clinical documentation, and meeting with a member of their staff. Exam requests that come to DAO after the start of Reading Period will be reviewed and explored, but DAO cannot guarantee implementation due to possible short notice.
Extensions on Final Papers or Projects
Okay, so I know the due date for my final paper, but I think I need an extension. Am I able to get one?
If you encounter unexpected difficulties in completing your work, you should consult your Resident Dean. Extensions of time up to the end of the Examination Period may be granted by your instructor, but extensions beyond the Examination Period can be granted only by vote of the Administrative Board. For more information, refer to the Extensions of Time (Written Work) policy in the Student Handbook.
Staying Healthy During Reading and Examination Period
When I feel stressed, I tend to get sick. How can I make sure I stay healthy, both physically, mentally, and emotionally, during the Reading and Examination Periods?
Final examinations are important, but so is your wellbeing. We hope that you are able to find a balance between prioritizing academics and your health during the Reading and Examination Periods.
If you become ill during Reading or Examination Period and live on-campus, visit Harvard University Health Services (HUHS). Schedule an appointment through the Patient Portal, or call one of the numbers listed. Additionally, there are Urgent Care services available at HUHS. If you are an enrolled student living off-campus, we encourage you to seek medical help at another health service or urgent care location.
It is important to stay properly fueled, nourished, hydrated, and rested during the Reading and Examination Periods. If you are looking for nutritional advice or counseling, you can schedule an appointment with a nutritionist or dietician at HUHS. Getting adequate sleep is essential for learning and overall well-being, so we encourage you to prioritize rest and other healthy habits.
Reading and Examination Period can be stressful. If you're finding it difficult to do your work, contact your Resident Dean, tutor, or proctor about the resources that would be appropriate for your situation. We encourage you to visit Counseling and Mental Health Services (CAMHS) for mental health support as needed during the course of the term and during Reading and Examination Period. Students are able to access CAMHS Urgent Care during the day by calling 617-495-2042 to schedule an appointment. After day hours, students can speak to a mental health clinician on call at 617-495-5711.
In addition to urgent care and scheduled appointments, CAMHS offers a variety of workshops and groups throughout the term that many students find helpful. CAMHS also has a number of resources that students might find useful, including steps to manage a stressful situation, Zoom fatigue, and more.
Do you have a peer who you think may be struggling during the Reading and Exam Period? The CAMHS website outlines how to help someone who is struggling, how to identify someone who needs help, how to refer someone for an appointment, and more. In addition, you can refer your friend to one of the many Peer Counseling programs offered, if you think this individual would be more comfortable speaking with a peer. If the individual is in need of care for their physical health, you may find it useful to refer this individual to HUHS Urgent Care.
Advising and Other Resources
I still have some questions about Reading and Exam Period, or maybe I need more advising. Where should I go now?
We encourage you to reach out to your proctors, Resident Deans, Peer Advising Fellows, advisors, and course instructors with any individual questions you may have about Reading or Examination Period. They will be able to either answer your questions or redirect you to the proper resources.