URBANA — This finals week is already full of firsts for University of Illinois sophomore Michelle Weber.
She’ll finish her first in-person semester since the pandemic started. Thursday marked the first time she’d ever studied in the Undergraduate Library, preparing for four exams and a couple papers.
It also marked her first, and perhaps last, time doing yoga inside the Siebel Center for Design.
“I’m so bad at yoga, I can’t even touch my toes,” Weber said. “But I needed to do something to clear my head. The balance is really important for me.”
UI students just wrapped up “Reading Day,” the free day between classes and exams. Now, it’s game time, but the arenas have changed quite a bit in one year.
In spring 2021, the UI hosted 1,164 final exams, with just 42 held in person.
This spring, through May 13, the UI will host 1,775 final exams, with 1,625 in person, said Terry Free, class schedule coordinator for the Office of the Registrar.
“It’s an adjustment, but I like live classes better,” said Ayesha Siddiqi, a sophomore in mechanical engineering.
While preparing for exams, location is key. Students have settled into their yearlong campus study hubs, like the Illini Union, Undergraduate Library and Grainger Library, rife with seating, tables and in-house caffeine.
And some of the spots have made special accommodations for the week of exams. Undergraduate Library staff distributed coloring pages, served snacks and hosted other activities to help diligent students take breaks.
The Illini Union slid out the barrier of a first-floor meeting room and turned it into a pop-up study space, which freshmen Kamari Howard and Becky Nguyen didn’t hesitate to use.
The pair usually walks over after their molecular and cellular biology course at Foellinger Hall, right across the Quad.
Howard and Nguyen are now seasoned study buddies — they prepared for an exam together during their first biology class last semester.
“And then we just happened to have this class together, too,” Nguyen said.
The class is shaping up to be their hardest exam, but at least it’ll be a shared struggle.
“I’ve been studying for it every day, but I probably should’ve started a little earlier,” Howard said, flipping through practice problems on her laptop. “There are a lot of things I forgot.”
A good venue and good company are important. But that’s the strategy. Some, like Siddiqi, are avoiding all social interaction this week.
“I have to get this stuff done,” she said.
Freshman Emily Leonard uses the venue as her strategy.
“I love Grainger, because it’s about a mile away from my dorm, so I have the incentive to want to go home,” she said — and that will be a key incentive with the seven papers she has due this week.
Sophomore Fareeda Yacout tries to block off her study times in advance, to hold herself to account.
“Even if I don’t plan on doing it, it encourages me to do it,” she said. “Just knowing I have the ability to study, I feel bad if I don’t follow through.”
Media and cinema studies student Mark Magallanes has a different approach. He spent most of his week doing house chores and hanging out with friends to remove all distractions.
“I have ADHD, so I’m trying to get all my procrastination out of the way right now until I need to do everything,” he said.
On Thursday, he met with Weber and Leonard to study for a French exam today. They’re new connections he just made at the end of his first term.
“I feel like this semester, I personally developed the most. I wasn’t the most social person before,” Magallanes said. “Maybe it was the blossoming flowers.”