Experts ease pain of finals crunch time

It's 3 p.m. on a Thursday afternoon and Anh Dang has an organic chemistry midterm tomorrow. But he's not panicking, or at least he's not showing it.

Instead, hunched over a textbook and a calculator, the junior chemistry major busily works over equations with Doug Kent, a science-skills specialist at the UC Davis Learning Skills Center.

He'll be back come end of winter quarter exam time, Dang said. Fall quarter, the strategy proved successful. After frequently visiting the Learning Skills Center's workshops and tutoring sessions, he received a B in a previous chemistry class.

"In class, we barely have time to stop the professor," Dang said. "It's less intimidating here. We can ask anything, and not feel stupid."

Tucked up in Dutton Hall, a cadre of center academic experts is busy preparing students for writing end-of-the-quarter papers and taking math and science exams. "It's pretty steady here, but it swells around midterms and finals," said Learning Skills Center Director Virginia Martucci.

The center, which sees 3,000 students a quarter, isn't the only campus service helping keep students sane as they prepare for exams, which start March 17. In many cases, the work has already begun.

UC Davis' Counseling Center doesn't see hordes of students right before exam time. Students usually cut back on their regular sessions in order to study, said director Judy Mack.

Study survival tips

But during the exam crunch, the center will provide any student with a list of exam study survival tips, including less well known hints, such as not studying for two similar courses consecutively. The center advises breaking up the study for two history courses, for example, with some math review.

Academic anxiety is the No. 2 reason, after personal concerns, why students visit the counseling center during the year, Mack said.

When the two mix, students may be referred to the counseling center from their dean's office. In some severe cases, the center will recommend that the student be allowed to drop the class after the typical drop deadline. In most cases, however, a student and a counselor will try to brainstorm a solution to help the student get through their work, Mack said.

"In general we don't talk with professors (about students). We coach students about how they can talk to professors," she said.

"We'll talk to students about what they are afraid of and try to put some reality into it."

Student Judicial Affairs started preparing students for the stresses of the exam rush back in mid-February, when the department hosted Integrity Week.

Chocolate stress-buster

During the annual event, student board members hand out kits stocked with exam staple pencils and Blue Books printed with the UC Davis Code of Academic Conduct as well as chocolate and popcorn stress busters.

Board members also visited classes to emphasize to students how important it is to be an honest scholar.

"The message is that integrity is essential to learning," said Jeanne Wilson, the department's director. "Cheating isn't learning."

Student Judicial Affairs also works with faculty to ensure that their students are honest during exams.

Of the students referred to the department each year, more than 40 percent are suspected of cheating on an exam, Wilson said.

During the quarter, professors can request academic integrity survival kits including detailed tip sheets on preventing cheating, information about the code of academic conduct and forms to report suspected cheaters.

Among its tips, Judicial Affairs advises faculty members to have students sign an honor pledge on the exam and sign their work in ink on every exam page. The sheet also tells faculty members how to look for test-taking ringers and how to confront suspected cheaters.

Before exam time, Judicial Affairs encourages faculty members to discuss academic integrity with their classes, comparing the issue to the ethical choices the students may face in their future careers.

Preparing fosters integrity

Better-prepared students generally show greater academic integrity, said Wilson, and again that's where the Learning Skills Center can come to students' aid.

At the end of the quarter, the center's skills specialists will host a couple of special exam prep programs, in addition to their regular sessions.

Kent and Fred Wood, associate dean of the College of Letters and Sciences, will host a live television broadcast to the residence halls, giving students a chance to phone-in or e-mail questions about the general chemistry exam.

And Ward Stewart, a math skills specialist, will host a Math Mania night in the Learning Skills Center to help calculus students prepare for their finals. At the event, up to 100 students bring in old final exams for test-taking practice. It's during these sessions, that students really test him, Stewart said.

"My mind is swimming after answering three hours of questions," he said.

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Amy Agronis, Dateline, (530) 752-1932,

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