Let's start back at the very beginning. When I was deciding on an undergraduate engineering program that I wanted to enroll in, I knew that climbing still had to fit in somewhere. My final decision to attend Northeastern University in Boston arose out of Northeastern's stellar engineering school and extensive co-op opportunities that the school is renowned for. I also liked the study-hard/play-hard atmosphere of Boston and the fact that the climbing community was extremely welcoming (not to mention the fantastic comps they put on). I assumed that my time at school would mainly be centered around my studies and that I would not have enough time/be motivated enough to actually get myself to the gym. Boy was I wrong.
Looking back, not only did I have the time to climb, I found myself more motivated than I ever have been in my whole life to get as much climbing in as possible, usually spending 5+ hours at a time climbing in the gym or outside at a New England crag. Instead of becoming a mindless training cycle, (as it had felt like in high school) climbing became my release from the many hours cooped up in my dorm or in class studying or taking notes. It felt natural, not forced, to have both my academics and my passion for climbing as the two center-points of my life.
Anyways, now on to what I was getting at. Finals. After completing quite a variety of them in close succession, (as described earlier) I have noticed many similarities (and a couple major differences) between competition finals and the final exams that I took at the end of my first semester of college.
Firstly, it is important to understand that not everyone makes it to finals. Finals are an event bound with exclusivity in both cases; qualifying for finals at any major climbing competition is equally as challenging as sticking out a class for a full semester. It is a given fact that some kids just won't make it, either by dropping the class, or not having the best day of climbing. It is also important to understand that it is OK to sometimes not make finals, and if you don't, to take it as a learning experience and to put even more effort into next time finals roll around. I haven't had to drop a class yet, but I almost found this lesson out the hard way in the Dark Horse competitions by qualifying in the very last spot into finals on two separate occasions.
Secondly, finals are all about knowing how to prepare yourself for exactly what you about to face. In my climbing experience, training on the IFSC speed wall before I went down to South America was essential in keeping the route beta fresh in my mind and retaining the necessary muscle memory for the route. The same lesson I applied to my training for Dark Horse, by practicing delicate slab climbs, huge dynos, and crazy Josh Larson-esque beta that only he would be so daring as to come up with. When it came time for my final exam in CHEM1151, (my general engineering chemistry class) I did a huge amount of practice problems that I knew were going to be similar to the material on the test, and I believe it helped enormously in my overall grade.
Finally, the most indispensable element in order to succeed in finals is adaptability. There is no way that every formula you memorized or every training move you executed will be handed to you on a silver platter (unless of course you are very lucky). Doing well in finals or on a final exam is 99% mental, since most finals are intentionally designed to bring you outside your comfort zone. When the problem looks too daunting to even approach, DO NOT PANIC. Think about what the creator of the problem is trying to get you to do. Then, take a step back, close your eyes, and take a long, deep breath. Once you have done so, break down the challenge (be it a boulder problem or calculus problem) into small, manageable steps that you believe will eventually lead you to the finish. Once you have decided on the manner in which you will attack, be confident in it, and proceed. If it fails, be adaptable and try a slightly different tactic (maybe it's actually a rose move! or maybe I should integrate by parts!) and try the process over again. Being adaptive to your surroundings will give you a huge advantage over a strategy of bashing your head into the wall by using the same approach time and time again.
That will pretty much do it for the similarities I found between my academic finals and competition finals, but there is one major difference that I would like to point out: In climbing finals, being the underdog in a comp is a good thing. There is way less pressure on you, so if you are a lower-seeded competitor in the finals, it feels as if you can make no mistake that would harm your current position. In my experience, being an underdog in a comp generally correlates to a much clearer mindset and a much better performance in the final round. This is absolutely not the case in academic finals. DO NOT be an underdog heading into the final by having a poor grade. Try to have the best grade possible beforehand to give yourself an extra point cushion should the final prove to be more devious than expected. Usually, grades in classes are cumulative, which means that even a good performance on the final does not guarantee you a good grade in the class, and it also puts a lot more mental strain on you at a time when you need your mind to be clear and stress-free. This seems like a very obvious statement to make, but I just wanted to show that there is indeed differentiation between the two types of finals that were previously mentioned.