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Students study for prelims in distanced locations across campus.

March 7, 2021

Stress on Campus Lessens During Prelim Week, Despite Academic Pressures

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As the semester ramps up, Cornell students are now spending their limited free time studying for prelims. 

Compared to last semester, students and professors have cited improvements to mental health. While some expressed their difficulties with online learning and exams, they’ve adapted to online classes and now know what to expect.

Danika Cho ’23, said her mental health has improved since last semester. To destress, Cho routinely eats dinner, reads and drinks tea with her roommate. 

However, the online format has limited her contact with professors and sped up the pace of many of her sociology classes. 

“It’s easy for professors to cram stuff when they don’t have students in the course interrupting for quick questions, so I think it’s going at a much faster pace,” Cho said. 

On top of the additional content, Cho has struggled to find effective study habits because of fewer social interactions, faced difficulty in reserving study spaces and grappled with “Zoom fatigue.”

Online prelims have also made administering exams and monitoring cheating more difficult for professors. 

For the spring semester, Prof. Terence Alexander, applied economics and management, has required his students in “Microeconomics for the Service Industry” to take their prelims in person. He recognized the discomfort of taking a prelim in a mask, but said there was one major benefit of the in-person prelim: his ability to walk around and help students with the exam when they’re struggling. 

“They don’t get that help on Zoom,” he said. “During a Canvas exam, they can send me emails or texts if they are having problems. But it’s not the same help that you can give [in person].”

Alexander said he believes that mental health on campus is improving — he reported more energy and enthusiasm for teaching compared to the fall. When teaching his fall class, he said, he got worn out quickly and canceled several classes.

Raymond Yuan Li ’24 expressed similar improvements — he has been less concerned about prelims this semester now that he studies remotely. 

Li planned his schedule and classes so that he would have as few prelims as possible. He now focuses more on his extracurricular activities.

“With COVID, the tremendous stress is not with catching up on work, but all these extracurriculars that have things due,” he said. “That’s so much more time demanding.” 

Although Li is remote, he has found ways to ease his prelim anxiety and stress. Li socializes with coworkers, works out and cooks as an outlet to destress. 

While Cornell is still under a hybrid model, students and professors hold out hope that the University can open fully soon.

“I think we all see there’s an end in sight and that this might be the last semester of this,” Alexander said.