Our High School students are grateful to be on break … and grateful to be done with their semester exams! The freshmen have survived their first go-round and the seniors are finished (except for May AP exams) until a year from now when they take their college finals. So, why do we engage in this semi-annual ritual of blue-book-laden stress?

It’s really about preparation for those above-referenced college exams. The process of synthesizing a great deal of material and being able to handle it on a longer exam is crucial for college courses. We practice this here over the course of seven semesters (from fall of freshman year through fall of senior year). At St. Francis, the exams count between 10 – 20% of a student’s final semester grade, so as they learn to take these exams, struggling with the process cannot torpedo their grade. For instance, in a course where the exam is worth 15%, a student with a grade in the middle of the B range would need only a 60% on the final to earn a B- and could maintain the B with a 70%. In college, of course, the stakes are often much higher and so practicing this exam process over and over again will stand our students in good stead.

We help students learn to prepare for their exams via study guides and review sessions. Exams are spread over five days in December and four in May, in order to allow time to focus and systematically prepare. In 9th grade, part of students’ process going into exams is a consideration of how important each one is and why, to help promote their consideration of the level of studying they want to do and how much time that may take.  

Of course, while we place emphasis on the exams’ importance, we also want to reduce the stress around them. From trying to help students understand the concept of “stressing about stressing” to daily “therapy pets” to the daily Brain Food Buffet to the Zen Zone with bubble wrap to pop, beach balls to toss, and comforting hot tea and hot chocolate to drink, we’re working to model healthy approaches to academic stress and show students ways to care for themselves during stressful times.  

In the end, students learn from these exams each time, both from a content and a process standpoint, and will find themselves better prepared for what they’ll face in college. For now, they’re just glad to be through with them, but eventually, they’ll be glad they had to endure exam week! Wishing them and all of you a wonderful holiday season and a happy New Year!