New year, new finals: Students respond to finals week after winter break

Seniors+Genevieve+Sive%2C+Sienna+Ozar%2C+Kennedy+Schultz+and+Audrey+DeUgarte+study+for+final+exams+in+Clark+Street+Bakery+across+the+street+from+Archer.+Many+teachers+made+lengthy+study+guides+for+upper+schoolers+to+practice+material+since+many+exams+covered+class+material+taught+back+in+September.

Photo credit: Lucia Ponti

Seniors Genevieve Sive, Sienna Ozar, Kennedy Schultz and Audrey DeUgarte study for final exams in Clark Street Bakery across the street from Archer. Many teachers made lengthy study guides for upper schoolers to practice material since many exams covered class material taught back in September.

By Lucy Williams, Senior Reporter

Students reopened large binders with forgotten math homework from December. Online grade calculators of questionable accuracy delivered the lowest final grade needed to get an A in a class. Upper schoolers arrived on campus in sweatpants and ran across the street for a caffeinated cup of fuel. Last week was a classic finals week with a twist: final exams were after winter break.

Archer’s administration moved finals from Dec. 15, 16 and 17 — the dates last year — to Jan. 18, 19 and 20, which was two weeks after school resumed after winter break. Department chairs, administrators and class deans made this change because the school year started Sept. 6, a later start compared to past years, which led to an even greater imbalance in semesters that affected semester-long classes.

Last school year, semester two was five weeks longer than semester one. Since Archer introduced semester-long English seminars to existing semester-long history seminars this year, the administration extended semester one to Jan. 24 to balance the length of those courses. Director of Academic Programs Reed Farley was involved in this decision and said the delayed finals shouldn’t have had a major impact on students’ preparation for the exams.

“Change is challenging, and our student body has experienced a lot of it recently,” Farley said. “But knowing that other schools have finals after winter break, like Windward and many East Coast schools, and given our new semester-long options, we thought we’d give it a shot.”

The Oracle sent a survey to upper school students Tuesday, Jan. 17, the day before the first final exams, asking for their opinions on the new schedule. Out of 279 upper schoolers, 96 students responded.

According to Farley, the majority of freshmen and sophomores had three final exams, juniors had two or three and seniors had zero or one, although many classes had informal finals in the weeks surrounding exams. In the survey, students wrote about their appreciation for many teachers’ support systems in the weeks before finals. These included in-depth study guides, review periods, office hours and assigning projects instead of formal exams.

“Ms. Shirk and Ms. Oliver gave in-class study periods and answered questions during those times, which was super helpful,” one student wrote in the survey. “Señora Geffen provided a great study guide with reading and writing practice. To lower students’ stress during finals in the future, it would be great to continue using these types of study guides.”

However, 84.4% of students still agreed that finals should take place before winter break. Students hadn’t yet taken the timed exams when responding to the survey, but many had been studying in the weeks prior and had already taken foreign language speaking finals. Sophomore Emma Winkler said she prefers the old schedule because of the motivation of a relaxing winter break.

“I’ve forgotten so much content from last year, so on top of learning new material in January, I have to re-memorize content all the way back to September,” Winkler said. “Last year, after the climax of stress and finishing work, we went into a two-week recovery break. This year, we finish our exams and have to run back into classes.”

In a free-response question asking why students preferred the old schedule, many students echoed Winkler’s opinion and said they appreciated the fresh start of a new year with a new semester of content.

“Having finals week at a different time conflicts with my outside-of-school sports because I have to miss practices,” one student-athlete wrote. “My teammates had optional practices at the time of their finals since most LA schools have finals in December.”

Although some students said they struggled to adjust, 16.4% of students appreciated the new schedule change.

“It helped me ease back into school and classes after the break,” one student wrote. “I didn’t feel a lot of pressure to study for finals after coming back since most class time in the past couple of weeks has been preparing for finals.”

Students who disliked the change wrote that they preferred to start the school year earlier so finals could be before winter break. Other students offered general ideas to limit stress during finals week, including “quiet days” in advance for review, more no-homework weekends and no major assignments due in the days before exams.

Senior Mina Mohammed is enrolled in two humanities seminars and said she doesn’t want to sacrifice winter break or the length of those classes.

“The length of semester-long classes shouldn’t be shorter, because a lot of teachers would have to make sacrifices with the content they’re choosing to teach,” Mohammed said. “I really enjoy being in Fairy Tales and Voice of Democracy, and shortening them would be sad, so starting school earlier would fix this while keeping finals before the break.”

The Archer administration sent out a survey after finals week was over to collect feedback about the new schedule after students had completed their final exams.

“We’re looking for the student voice on a multitude of things related to the student experience here,” Farley said. “We’re not only looking at the finals schedule. We’re looking at the FLX schedule. We’re looking at the mentorship time. Finals are just one small piece of a larger schedule that impacts student life.”