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Should finals be held before or after winter break?

December 2, 2021

Pro: Winter break meant for relaxation, not cramming

Teenagers are forgetful, but it is not their fault. According to the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the brain of an adolescent is expanding so rapidly that it is inefficient at remembering things.

Irvine High School (IHS) has traditionally held final exams after winter break, however this year, it will be held before break from Dec. 15 to 17. Exams should be held before winter break because it will provide students an adequate down period and time to make up missed exams before the next semester.

Instead of adding stress to students’ and staff’s winter break, exams should be held after, especially since students will forget most concepts by the time exams come around anyway. The forgetting curve, theorized by psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus, discovered that memory retention is lost over time, and that 75 percent of information is forgotten after six days. Considering students have a two week period where information is not being reinforced, students will not be prepared for finals since they will have forgotten course material. What is the point of having looming exams during winter break when students are going to be tested on forgotten material anyway? Winter break should remain the chance for students to relax from school and enjoy time with friends and family. It should be used to catch up on much needed rest and should not be used for studying, since that is counterintuitive to its purpose.

Students will also have the opportunity to make up exams and review material before starting the spring semesters if finals are held before winter break. Having the two weeks after the break before the start of the next semester allows students time to study and make up exams they might have missed the week before. Even when not used for exams, the two weeks can be utilized in other ways, like a review period before the next semester—one that is not cramming for an exam, but to foreshadow content in the next semester or review content that the class collectively missed. This remediation, or reteaching, allows students to go into the new semester confident in the material and ready to learn more. The two week period also gives staff time to grade and input grades on non-break days, when they too are supposed to rest. Having finals before break is beneficial to both students and staff, and therefore this schedule should continue to be implemented.

Some might argue that having exams after the break would allow more time to review curriculum, however it fails to recognize that cramming information and then starting a new semester with a five-day weekend will lead to burnout. Most colleges and universities in the United States, like the California State University system and prominent universities like Yale or Rice, have exams before winter break to provide a period for students to recover. However, since IHS held finals after, it only provided a short break of five days before learning new information, which can cause fatigue and burnout due to the fast pace of teaching without rest. David Ballard of the American Psychological Association defines job-related burnout as “an extended period of time where someone experiences exhaustion and a lack of interest in things, resulting in a decline in their job performance.” In addition, Shepell·fgi says that burnout can cause lower productivity and quality of work, disorganization, wasted time and poor health. With non-stop studying and grading without an adequate break, students and staff are bound to experience burnout before the spring semester starts, so how can we expect their best performance for another five months? Having exams before winter break provides a two week long recovery period that allows students and staff to mentally and physically prepare for the next semester, and should therefore remain in future years.

Thus, finals should be held before winter break as it allows students to be tested on information that they have retained better and provides them adequate time to rest and enjoy themselves. Schools should not expect students to constantly work, especially during a period of time intended for quality time with loved ones. After all, students and teachers deserve it.


I prefer having finals before a break so that students can actually take a break over winter break instead of stressing out.”

Luna Bai, science teacher




“I think that finals should be before winter break since you would be able to perform better on the tests because you aren’t forgetting any material you learned in class. Also, students won’t have to stress over break because of finals. Winter break is the time to relax and hang out with your family, so having finals before break would be more beneficial and less stressful for the students.”

Kaylee Oh, freshman


Should finals be held before or after winter break?

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About the Contributor
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Vy Nguyen, Staff Writer

Vy Nguyen is a senior and staff writer for El Vaquero. Nguyen is also a copy editor. This is her third year on staff.

Con: Allocate more time for studying and pandemic catch up

Exhausting. The only word suited to describe this strenuous adjustment back to full-time school. With 49 percent of students experiencing stress on a daily basis according to New York University, there is an epidemic of stress amid this pandemic.

Impacting both students’ mental health and gradebooks, finals are a critical yet difficult time for all students. As schools across Irvine Unified School District (IUSD) have to align their schedules to coincide with each other, the discussion of finals scheduling is prevalent. Traditionally, finals have been given after winter break at Irvine High School, and we should uphold this precedent. Finals after winter break guarantee better academic performance, ensure teachers will be able to account for last year’s loss of learning and will alleviate student burn out.

With more time during winter break, students will be able to space out their study sessions and enhance long-term retainment. Research from the American Psychological Association revealed study sessions over a longer period can improve long-term memory. By spreading out study time, the brain practices the process of forgetting and retrieving which improves retention tremendously. Forcing students to take their tests before the break means they will be cramming and relying on memorization rather than actual comprehension. Schools have the duty to educate for the sake of learning, not for the grade. By scheduling finals before winter break, schools are sending the wrong message.

This year, more than ever, having finals after winter break is pivotal to account for last year’s learning loss and shorter instructional hours. A 2021 report found that students were five months behind in mathematics and four months behind in reading by the end of the school year. Coming back from the pandemic, teachers are burdened with the responsibility to fill in gaps and be there for students. Cramming teachers with even less time and forcing them to assess students before they are ready is only adding to this burden. The pandemic itself thrusted stress-levels for both teachers and students. As we were thrown into the deep end, we all had to swim our way through internet issues and the loss of motivation. Just as we seemed to be getting the hang of it, we got completely turned around and went back to the traditional in-person schedule. So, it’s inevitable that we start to feel burnt out. According to a study at Ohio State, the number of students feeling burnout increased from 40 percent in August 2020 to 71 percent in April. Switching on and off-line coupled with changes to our schedule are only making this already loopy roller coaster more difficult. Testing after winter break enables teachers to finish their curriculum smoothly and allows students to have time to process before being tested.

While some may argue that finals before winter break allows students to utilize their two weeks as a break, students can still find a balance between a productive and relaxing break. With two entire weeks, students can study for shorter periods of time and reiterate the information they learn. Not only will this help improve retention, but it will develop a positive habit of studying and keeping the brain active. Going weeks without keeping brains active can lead to brain drain. According to research from the Washington Post, over summer breaks, students can lose up to 2.5 months of math skills. Without constantly exercising knowledge, students will be set back and lose the information they aren’t regularly using.

Taking into consideration the stress levels of both students and teachers, it is in the best interest of everyone to keep finals after winter break. For schools to help us smoothen this rollercoaster and help us stay afloat, it’s best we keep finals to after winter.






I have no preference. The advantage of before break is then students have a break to rest and recoup. But the advantage of after break is the whole point of a final—to see if a student has retained things. The excuse of “Oh, I forgot everything over break” is the whole point of giving a final. If you can’t remember it, then you don’t deserve a good grade. That’s also the reason why I give the statistics test after because I want to make sure that students have retained everything moving into the second semester.”

Richard Crowe, math teacher


“I think that having finals after break would make the weeks before break more relaxing and fun. We could enjoy the last few weeks with friends instead of worrying about tests.”

Lauren Lai, freshman

About the Writer
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Mannat Bawa, Managing Editor, Social Media Director

Mannat Bawa is a junior and the managing editor for El Vaquero. Bawa is also the social media director and the news editor. This is her second year on staff.

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