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Finals Frenzy: General

Badger Insider readers shared their final-exam horror stories with us, and we heard everything — from studying the wrong material to misreading the exam location. Here are all of the memories we received.

Students studying at Memorial Library

By Badger Insider Readers

Finals Frenzy

My roommate and I were doing an all-nighter during exams... we got a big bag of Hershey's miniatures and almost finished them when we noticed that there were little worms crawling all over them. She threw up. I gagged!
Marilyn Grabin Putz ’54, ’54
Highland Park, Illinois

I didn't consciously study for the wrong exam, but remember a couple of times that it seemed as though I had!
Kris Koepcke ’57, LLB’64
Naples, Florida

Badger Insider, you may be looking for finals stories with a bit of wry humor included, but I hope you'll consider printing mine, which is accurate to the finest detail, and one of the biggest blips of my life.

The final examination that I regret to this day was the one I refused to take at the end of my first year of medical school, the gloomiest two semesters of my entire college experience. I had studied seriously as an undergraduate and earned UW’s senior high honors, a distinction awarded at that time to roughly the top 1 percent of all graduating seniors. Expecting medical school to be a greater intellectual challenge, I sprinted off from the opening bell, racing along within the head of the pack. Within several weeks I collided with reality. This was not an intellectual challenge; this was memorizing micro-facts. Admittedly some course work was useful for fledgling physicians, but I, having other stresses nagging at me (among them financial), kept my focus on the memorization, and soon belly-flopped into rebellion.

While my classmates pulled doggedly on their oars, I splashed behind, trying not to take on too much water, reading novels, cutting lectures. I made it through the first semester with mediocre grades and resolved to behave myself during the second, but I was undone again, this time by neurophysiology, which at that time over a half century ago was taught over-simplified. I played the perfect fool, fumbling and stumbling right up to finals week. The neurophysiology final was known to be made up of questions from previous exams, which were freely available in the student underground. But I had none of that. I was determined to put a stamp on my rebellion. When given the final exam, I immediately wrote my name on the top sheet and handed it to the kind older professor who was proctoring the examination, thinking I had just bought a ticket out of medical school.

I was quickly called to the office of the chairman of anatomy, a man I had great respect for. I expected the worst, but was treated kindly as he listened to my criticism of the course. After some discussion, he suggested that I immerse myself in several textbooks in preparation for an oral examination in neurophysiology at the end of summer, which I happily did. On the day of that exam, the designated professor handed me the very exam I had written my name on, insisting I now complete it. I argued. He won. (I later learned he had told someone he needed to bone up on the subject before giving an oral exam. Apparently, he didn’t.) “What’s a passing grade?” I asked, beginning to write. “Don’t you dare,” he said. But I did. I left the last page and half of the exam blank but managed to pass the course and bungle my way into the second year of medical school.

Quick coda: I split my sophomore year of medical school, enrolling simultaneously in graduate school for those two years. I then opted to pursue a PhD, earning that in 1963. I later completed my MD degree at another university. Years later, with the sour taste of my first year of medical school lingering, I wrote a novel (The Colors of Medicine) and put my protagonist through medical school in Madison, allowing him to mimic some of my abominable behavior. But that protagonist, in all his misbehavior, does not turn in a final exam bearing only his name. I thought readers would not believe that.
Kenneth Goetz ’58, PhD’63
Overland Park, Kansas

This was my harrowing final exam experience during second semester finals in May of 1957. To begin with, I had completed a Math 2: Intro to Math Analyses course during the fall of 1956. I then continued my math-major requirement by enrolling in Math 7: Theory of Investment for the spring semester of 1957. Finals week soon arrived in May, and I proceeded to the designated classroom at North Hall. The Math 7 finals were passed out, and I began sensing that I didn't recognize any of the questions listed on each page. Being thoroughly confused, I got the attention of a teaching assistant and we discovered that I was attempting to complete an exam that was designated for another math course. This TA discovered that a few of the students had mistakenly received this incorrect final exam. In conclusion, the TA arranged for a make-up Math 7 final exam for those of us with incorrect finals. We all breathed a sigh of relief.
Glen Volkman ’64
Eau Claire, Wisconsin

The most depressing thing I remember about finals in the 1960s is that they were scheduled AFTER Christmas break! Instead of getting to relax and decompress over holidays, I always had to worry about exams with a sense of impending doom as I hauled books home and crammed studies instead of Christmas cookies.
James Andrus ’68
Cortez, Colorado

Professor Hakeem would famously warn students before exams that “verbosity will be penalized,” announced that there would be only two questions on the final exam. However, we discovered when he handed it out, there were 10 parts to each question.
John Johnson ’74
Sun Prairie, Wisconsin

One Word: BLUEBOOKS! Enough said … my worst nightmare.
Barbara Pedian Schneider ’71
East Falmouth, Massachusetts

It was January 23, 1962, and there was nothing unusual about my taking two final examinations that day. What was unusual was getting to and from the examinations in weather that was bad, even for Madison in January. It was minus 17 with 18-mile-an-hour winds with gusts up to 45 miles an hour. I can't remember whether it was snowing or whether the wind was just blowing previously fallen snow. I remember walking across campus with the wind and snow blowing in my face. No fun.
Jerry Alperstein ’64
New York

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