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Are you ready for the last stretch (of exams)?

Can you use "last stretch" to refer to one final exam? I think the last stretch is used to refer to several events upcoming, but not a single event. What idiom or expression do you use to refer to a single event? Is there any similar phrase to "ready for the last stretch"?

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    There's no rule for this. It's referring to the final part of a (horse) race, and could be delimited however you wish.
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Apr 11, 2022 at 1:32
  • If you're coming up for your final exam it's fine to say you're in the last stretch or in the final stretch.
    – ralph.m
    Commented Apr 11, 2022 at 7:05
  • Exams can be of any length, and customs vary at each school, not to speak of which country. "Stretch" is part of a "horse race" Path theme, where it refers to some length of the path. As long as it doesn't obviously refer to a single point, stretch can contain any number of arbitrary units or events. Counting is not included -- stretching a string does not involve counting -- metrics and distance are not part of topology. Commented Apr 11, 2022 at 19:21
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    During a summer exam period you might say that students endure a long stretch of exams. I'd more happily describe a 'final' exam as a last "hurdle" than a last "stretch" because stretch is most often used to suggest a(n extended) duration of time (with multiple challenges/"hurdles"). You might also describe the final exam as "one last push".
    – Dan
    Commented Apr 15, 2022 at 18:29
  • A stretch of time is a duration, not a point in time. An exam, or any other event, can be looked at as taking place at a point in time, or as something that lasts for some duration. Context can help determine what's meant.
    – Drew
    Commented May 13, 2022 at 0:02

3 Answers 3

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As has already been pointed out last stretch is, in this usage, a metaphor: it analogises whatever it stands for to the last, straight, part of a racetrack. The last part of racetrack is something continuous; it is not normally regarded as a collection of discrete, countable items. The metaphor thus treats whatever it stands for as if it were something continuous; it ignores the fact, when described in other ways, it may, in fact, be a collection of discrete, countable items.

Therefore, although exams, described as such, are countable, their countability is ignored when they are described, metaphorically, as the last stretch. There is thus no obstacle to applying the term to any particular number of exams, including just one, as long as the number is significantly smaller than the total number of exams in the exam period (or, depending on the context, in one's course of studies as a whole).

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A similar expression from horseracing is to enter/come down/be in the homestretch or home straight, the straight final stretch.

homestretch

a final stage

In truth, the company is in the homestretch with the rocket, and the launch site in French Guiana does seem to be coming together. — Eric Berger, Ars Technica, 27 Dec. 2021 m-w

homestretch / home stretch

You can refer to the last part of any activity that lasts for a long time as the homestretch, especially if the activity is difficult or boring.

The Oscars race will enter the homestretch after this weekend. Collins

home straight (also North American home stretch)

The last part of an activity or campaign.

heading down the home stretch to Tuesday's final Lexico


It's the night before the final exam in your introductory psychology course. You've put in a lot of time reviewing your course notes and the material in this textbook, and you feel that you have learned most of it pretty well. You are coming down the home stretch with little time left, and you've got to decide whether to devote those precious remaining minutes to studying psychological disorders or social psychology. D. Schacter et al.; Psychology (2010)

When you make it to the second interview, you are in the homestretch to obtaining an offer. J. Cody; Medical Assisting Exam Review (2010)

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  • The question is whether last stretch can be used for a single event, such as the last exam of an exam period. Alternative expressions, such as homestretch would be relevant to the question only if it were first established that last stretch cannot be used in such cases, and this hasn't been done in this answer.
    – jsw29
    Commented Apr 11, 2022 at 20:06
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    The OP also asks "Is there any similar phrase to "ready for the last stretch?"
    – DjinTonic
    Commented Apr 11, 2022 at 23:48
  • True, but, as I read the question, its two parts are not independent: I take it that the OP seeks alternative expressions, in the second part of the question, only because of the assumption that the answer to the first part will be that the last stretch is somehow inappropriate.
    – jsw29
    Commented Apr 12, 2022 at 16:38
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There is a closely related idiom, often in the form:

fall at the final hurdle

To fail to accomplish some task or goal at the very end of the attempt.

  • Negotiations between the two warring countries fell at the final hurdle due to disagreements over cross-border taxation.

Farlex Dictionary of Idioms

But Collins lists the phrase the final hurdle itself as at least a strong collocation (obviously from the examples often used metaphorically, thus an idiom):

  • The final hurdle of planning permission has just been cleared. [Times, Sunday Times]

And below are further similar examples:

  • The final hurdle: preparation for the PhD viva examination

[Barbara Jack; NIH National Library of Medicine]

  • We’re now approaching the final hurdle on the road to a privacy-first, cookieless industry.

[WARC; March 2022]

  • Today, we have reached the final hurdle in the long-delayed patriation process.

[De Hansard archive; Cambridge Dictionary]

....................................

One contributor requires that the question

  • 'Can you use "last stretch" to refer to one final exam? I think the last stretch is used to refer to several events upcoming, but not a single event.'

also be addressed. John Lawler has already done this in a 'comment'; I assume I'm agreeing with JL that because of lack of research shown, an 'answer' is not really appropriate. However, I'll add a referenced answer. Longman brings out the metaphorical usage well:

the home/final stretch

  • a) the last part of a track before the end of a race
  • b) the last part of an activity, trip, or process

As they enter the home stretch of the campaign, the president’s lead has grown.

'The last part of a process' seems to licence a punctive/punctual event (such as a typical exam). However, I've found no examples in dictionaries or the first few pages of raw Google searches for "final stretch" or "last stretch" (not as common) which definitely refer to a culminating short event, and most of them definitely don't, referring definitively to the run-up (eg

  • It was an easy trip except for the last stretch, which took forever.)

I'd say that, as an easy alternative presents itself, it is better to restrict 'last stretch' to the path (non-punctive) metaphor.

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  • The OP wants an idiom for anticipating the last exam, not for failing it.
    – Lawrence
    Commented Apr 11, 2022 at 14:33
  • And the broadened example 'We’re now approaching the final hurdle' doesn't address this? This is a common broadening. Commented Apr 11, 2022 at 14:53
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    "The final hurdle" does address this, but your answer appears to be promoting "fall at the final hurdle" with the other references cited for support. If the "fall" part is de-emphasised, this should satisfy the OP. Nevertheless, the question contains a misunderstanding that a 'final stretch' cannot contain just one item. It would be good for answers to address this misunderstanding.
    – Lawrence
    Commented Apr 11, 2022 at 14:59
  • What part of the secondary question, the one I choose to answer, is causing you a problem? 'What idiom or expression do you use to refer to a single event? Is there any similar phrase to "ready for the last stretch"?' // The other question, 'Can you use "last stretch" to refer to one final exam?', is partly opinion-based (I'd use it for the run-up as well) but should be accompanied by easily found examples. I'd CV just this question, not do the obvious research. Commented Apr 12, 2022 at 14:23

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