New Canaan students examine habits around finals
The New Canaan High School Library was noticeably noisy Monday. Many students were wired up before final exams, which began Thursday at the high school.
This kept library department chairman Michelle Luhtala on her feet as she tried turning a group of students back on to studying. They were watching a soccer game on a laptop.
Sophomore Nick Walsh contested, "Distractions are actually good for studying, because if you take a break and you come back, you remember it better."
Luhtala took this lightly during the last period of a busy day.
"They don't seem stressed out right now," Luhtala said. "They seem stressed the day of (an exam)."
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Senior Jackson Busch recalled past years when, during the 30-minute recess between final exams, the school library was scrambling with students.
"The one period between the first exam and the second, this place was a madhouse," Busch said, noting students running from one end of the library to the other in a rushed, last-minute review for the exam they were about to take.
This was not the case for Busch, sitting at a computer next to senior Henson Orsor in the library. They both took exams in May for their Advanced Placement classes.
"You're really struck after you take the AP test with how well your teachers prepared you," Busch said.
Orsor agreed, alluding to the relative ease with which they were spending their time.
"I threw it into neutral at the top of the hill in mid-December and I've been coasting down ever since," Orsor said of his stress level this semester.
This time of the school year, Busch and Orsor said, they are working on class projects.
"Generally teachers try to fill the time after AP (exams) with projects," Orsor said, although he was writing an appeal letter to earn credit for his ceramics class at this time.
Busch said he was finishing a Spanish project due Wednesday.
"The thing is, I have two other projects (due) that day," Busch said.
Senior Katherine Moncure found herself in a similar situation as Busch and Orsor. She said she has final projects in several of her classes and is exempt from her exams.
According to the high school's student handbook, seniors in their second semester have the option of waiving a final exam if their fourth quarter average grade in the class is at least 85 percent. They also can't have more than five excused absences and any absences not excused.
Moncure acknowledged not all students experience this type of schedule during exams, recalling her experiences with stress in previous years.
"I get very bitter, very cranky, not very nice during exam week," she said. "Everyone has this weird energy ... . We're all in some powerhouse kind of mode."
This is the type of energy that attracted junior Rebecca Mellinger to the New Canaan Library, where she was studying after school Monday. The library was open late -- until 10 p.m. -- this week for finals.
"I like working at the library because there are people working around you," Mellinger said. "It gets you into that studying mode. As long as it's not distracting it's fine, but some people can be loud and annoying at the library."
Sophomore Gita Abhiraman said she avoids these types of people by studying in a quiet environment by herself. She developed personal habits to remain productive while studying.
"I look over my textbook, go back and do tests and quizzes over again," she said. "Sometimes questions come back exactly the same way on the final."
Once when she was struggling to remember dates and events for an AP history class, Abhiraman created a 27-page time line that she hung on her wall.
"It's really helpful just to visualize it," she said.
Abhiraman said she also developed habits that help keep her stress to a minimum.
"I tend to take things a little less seriously, which helps me keep calm," she said. "I always bring food I like to tests. When I'm studying, food helps me feel better."
History teacher Doug Farrenkopf, who teaches three psychology courses, contemporary issues and US history to seniors, said he tries to ease the pressure off his students during finals.
"They come to a point where they just don't want anything else to go into those heads," Farrenkopf said.
He explained how students in his psychology classes keep journals for reflecting on class lessons and keeping notes. His students hand in their journal as the final exam.
"It's the application of facts," he said.
Farrenkopf's US History class worked on an emigration project this year that involved a personal element, he said.
"At the end of the year, when you can personalize the final, it's a little less irritating," he said, adding his goal is not to stress students out.
"I try to think of long-term learning," he said. "I'm not interested in a final that kids cram for."
"They are always available to help students," Cesareo said. "They have vast reviews for them. Many of them give out study guides. So I think (the students) get a tremendous amount of support."
She said the nurse's office at the high school, where she works, offers a relaxing atmosphere with four beds divided by curtains, soft chairs, a rug, dim lighting, and heating and cooling pads.
"I think that we also offer them reassurance, some crisis intervention, depending on how big the crisis, what the crisis is," she said, adding students stop by her office when stressed about finals.
"Some kids manage it very well," she said. "They're well prepared. They've worked hard all year and all semester. Other students just tend to worry and can be anxious about exams."
Back in the high school library, Luhtala said some students reach out to her.
"They will start messaging me, emailing me in distress," she said. "But most of the time when they reach out to us, it's for research. Most of the kids now, they reach out to me because they're behind."
Luhtala said the high school library offers online resources for students and encourages students to use social media for learning. Many students use social media websites like Facebook to communicate with classmates about projects.
"It completely flipped everything around," she said. "What it does is it brings kids back to learning. It brings learning into their social life."
The library staff also encourages students to download applications to their smart phones and computing tablets. Luhtala said the library will have its own application as a resource for students next year.
"We're gearing up for next year already," she said.
Alice Wang contributed to this report.
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