This past semester, the last day of class was Friday, April 22nd, but my last final exam was on Sunday, May 8th. What happens in the nearly three weeks between the end of classes and the last final exam?
The answer is reading period and finals period, a time for students to write their final papers and prepare for exams. Compared to other universities, which often have reading periods of only several days, Princeton has a lengthy stretch of time between the last class and final exam. I've found, though, that I really like having this extended reading and finals period. It allows me to carefully review all the material, and I can master concepts that I didn't fully grasp on the first pass during the hectic semester.
Reading period spans the week from the day after the last class through "Dean's Date," when all final papers and final projects are due at 5 p.m. Most students spend the reading period completing these assignments, and there are a number of amusing Princeton traditions that occur just before the deadline. One tradition, for instance, is the late-night "breakfast" in the residential colleges occuring at around 10 to 11 p.m. on the night before Dean's Date, in which all the dining halls open and offer a full breakfast buffet to hungry students struggling to debug their code or flesh out their concluding arguments. This is followed by a rather unusual event: at midnight, students will gather outside their dorms and collectively scream for a full minute, from 12:00 to 12:01, to let off steam and pent-up frustration. The scream has different titles at the different dormitories; Whitmanites gather in the courtyard for the "Whitman Wail," while outside of Holder Hall you'll hear the "Holder Howl." While somewhat dramatic, the scream shows you that you're not alone in feeling a little strained at the end of the semester. Everyone is feeling the stress of putting their best effort into their final assignments, but everyone also takes comfort in knowing that soon their work will be complete and submitted.
At 5 p.m. on Dean's Date, the Princeton Band plays celebratory music and food trucks arrive to feed hungry, exhausted students outside McCosh Hall. Your assignments are complete!
Then it's time for final exams. The day following Dean's Date is the beginning of finals period, which lasts about two weeks. Each class is assigned a specific exam window during the finals period so that no two classes will have conflicting exams. The lengthy finals period means that you'll likely have several days between exams, which is useful in allowing you to fully prepare and feel ready for each one. Many classes continue to offer office hours and review sessions during reading period and finals period, which allows you to get help studying topics that you don't remember or never quite fully understood. Then, after taking your last exam, the semester is officially over! You then have a generously long winter or summer break to rest and rejuvenate before starting your next set of courses.