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Treats and talismans comfort students as exam week looms

Late nights, good luck charms, snacks and stress are all part of the MIT final exam experience, and most MIT students would not have it any other way.

"People really get into it," senior economics major Frances Rogoz said about final exams, which run this year from Dec. 18-22. Rogoz is lucky--she only has one on Dec. 18, and then she is done. But for most students, it is a tough work week, she said. "They study a ton and really focus," Rogoz said.

Senior year is different from earlier years, Rogoz said. "Most upperclassmen have more final projects than final exams, so we can go out and celebrate the end a little more."

Still, Rogoz remembers what it was like to toil to the bitter end. "I would always wear a 'smart T-shirt,' like one from MIT, to my exams and I always wore some kind of religious symbol."

Whether it worked or not depend on what "working" means, said Rogoz, who brought her teddy bear to all of her final exams during her freshman year. "Just like all good luck charms, it was more for comfort than anything else."

As a new crop of students are inducted into MIT's final exam culture, some people develop new traditions, while others resort to tried-and-true methods from past years.

Throughout high school, freshman Alison Saunders also wore a certain shirt to each of her exams. "I always wore my (University of California) Berkeley sweatshirt," she said. "I figured it would remind me that if I wanted to get into Berkeley, I needed to do well on the test."

The shirt did seem to work, said Saunders, who was admitted to both Berkeley and MIT. But she picked MIT. "I figured it was the best," she said. As for whether she plans to continue the Berkeley sweatshirt tradition during exam week at MIT, Saunders said she was not yet sure. She acknowledged the sweatshirt's comfort factor might help with the stress.

Students were not alone in their preparations for this week's demands. Some departments on campus, including the Division of Student Life and the Academic Resource Center, offered opportunities for students to decompress.

Just off the Infinite Corridor, the Academic Resource Center filled an entire table with a variety of study snacks, including nuts, chocolate, cookies, fruit and more. They also offered students short chair massages as well as hot chocolate to get them in gear. The MIT Spa ran on Dec. 12 and 13 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

In the Student Center, first-year students could pick up goodie bags full of advice from upperclassmen as well as candy, juice and healthier snacks to eat late into the night.

The advice from upperclassman focused mainly on taking full advantage of study time and also on taking plenty of breaks.

Most students heeded this advice and found their way to the food at some point, said Elizabeth Young, assistant dean of new student programming, who runs the MIT Spa each year.

The students gathered at the spa said they had their own way of approaching their finals. Freshman Claire Smith said she tends to wake earlier than her roommate and use the quiet time to study. "I get up around 6:30 in the morning," she said. "That time seems to work for me."

Ricky Ramsaran, a junior in materials science and engineering, said he was feeling confident and that he had pulled all-nighters for papers, but never for studying. Still, he does have one ritual that started last year. "If I wear my brass rat during finals, I feel a lot more confident," he said.

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