In-person final exams return for fall semester


Selina Xu

Upper school students prepare for final exams in the library on Monday, Dec. 13. During finals week, librarians enforced a completely silent study zone in the library for students to focus on their studying.

by Selina Xu and Michelle Wei

Students took 90-minute in-person final exams yesterday, which will continue until Friday of this week.

This semester’s finals mark the first time in-person exams were administered on the upper school campus since the start of remote learning in March 2020.

“Honestly [I feel] pretty nervous,” freshman Ian Gerstner said. “In terms of COVID, in the middle school I only got to take one semester final, so I feel [some] butterflies in my stomach, but if everybody is preparing and studying I don’t think it’ll be that bad.”

Director of Standardized Testing Troy Thiele sent out an email on Friday, Dec. 10, regarding the final exams schedule, which can be found here. In the email, he stated that he would also send individual emails each night with specific exam locations.

Upper school speech and debate teacher Jenny Achten, who is also a certified academic life coach, held a finals preparation workshop on Nov. 30. During the seminar, students learned tips for studying and maintaining a healthy mindset in the weeks leading up to finals, a particularly stressful time of year. Achten emphasized the importance of creating and executing a study schedule and mentioned strategies such as explaining concepts to a friend to better understand them. 

“I think having a plan and feeling like you’re in control of your schedule is a very empowering and calming feeling,” Achten said. “Feeling like you’re in charge of your own learning because you’ve made choices about how to spend your time, will be the best way to both get those good grades and feel healthier about the process.”

Excited about how life coaching can impact students, Achten hopes to help students handle the extra stress students may be feeling following the transition from online learning.

“The pandemic was a major motivator for me to put together this particular seminar,” Achten said. “Now that we’re all busier, with commutes and sports and all the extra things that go with being back in person, it’s more important than ever to remind students that they are in control of their time and that if they lay out a plan, it can help them.”

Ritu Belani (10) implemented the lessons she learned from the seminar, by planning ahead and working on specific study strategies.

“[The workshop] was helpful because I could relate to what she was telling us to do and she provided examples of common strategies that fail,” Ritu said. “You hear these tips, but it’s good to hear them specifically in the context of preparing for finals.”

[Shortening the exams] was an effort to take a little stress off [so] that we weren’t going to be sitting for two-hour finals for the first time in a very long time. My concern is always about teachers and students balancing, and that we’re supporting our students.

— Kelly Horan, Upper School Dean of Academics

According to Upper School Dean of Academics Kelly Horan, the school administration made the decision to cancel first semester finals last year because of the challenges that online learning presented.

During the spring semester, teachers administered finals remotely or significantly modified them, either replaced by a project or canceled altogether. Horan empathizes with students returning to in-person finals, which were shortened from the original 2 hours this semester.

“[Shortening the exams] was an effort to take a little stress off [so] that we weren’t going to be sitting for two-hour finals for the first time in a very long time,” Horan said. “My concern is always about teachers and students balancing, and that we’re supporting our students. I’m hoping that we can make this a growth experience and not a super stressful one.”

Ritu feels prepared to return to taking exams this year, and she believes that taking first semester finals serves as a good review for both second semester finals and AP exams.

“We need to be able to go over all of the material from the start of the year because at the end of the year there’s even more information that you have to remember,” Ritu said. “I think it’s important to have this even if it’s painful to take a final and study for it [because] it makes things easier later.”

Last week leading up to finals, teachers also dedicated time in class to review sessions, as well as providing review material covering content from the semester.

The Athletic Center on Monday, Dec. 13. Tables and chairs were set up in locations such as the Athletic Center, the Auxiliary Gym and the Nichols Atrium for in-person final exams. (Alysa Suleiman)

“By going over old tests and looking at their old quizzes to be strategically targeting the areas that they didn’t do well on the first time, I’m hoping that I will help them better break up a large, overwhelming task into smaller pieces,” upper school chemistry teacher Andrew Irvine said.

Horan urges students to trust in their preparation and maintain healthy habits especially when finals are right around the corner. 

“The best way to go into exams is just knowing that you’ve prepared and desire to do your best,” Horan said. “So if you do the normal things to take care of yourself, like sleep and eat healthy and exercise, those are the really important things to hold on to, which should help with the stress of finals.”