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Rituals to cram by

By Kelly Virella, Special to the Daily Planet
Saturday May 04, 2002

Routine, superstition and will power guide students as  

they attempt to stay on the ball during final exams 


If UC Berkeley sophomore Lauren Keller wants to do well on her finals next month, she has to have a seven millimeter mechanical pencil with a white eraser.  

“The pencils I get weird about,” the cognitive science major said. “It’s gotta be seven millimeter lead — not five millimeter.”  

Keller writes her exams in the thin, blue books the university requires, but they throw her off, especially during math finals. “I really don’t like them because they’re wide ruled,” she said. “I like to have graphing paper to write on if it’s a math final.” 

Keller’s friend, Tissa Richards, a sophomore majoring in Mass Communications, teases Keller for being eccentric. But Richards admits she has her own quirks when it comes to preparing for exams. 

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First she has to consume a cup of green tea with milk and sugar, on the floor of her bedroom, in a cross-legged fashion, the night before the exam. Then when she goes to the exam room, she has to sit on the left side. “I’ve read it several times,” Richards said. “You get used to a place and you’re less likely to be distracted.” 

As the campus heads into finals week this month, many Berkeley students swore by the value of their exam rituals. “When you establish a routine and you’re successful, you just associate success with whatever kind of silly habits you’ve cultivated,” said Michelle Goldberg, a junior without a declared major. 

Keller ageed. “There’s so much to stress about,” if you have one easy consistent thing it relaxes you,” she said. “This (the mechanical pencil) is one little thing. I’m not turning around five times before I stir my tea.” 

No one at the Free Speech Movement café yesterday said they prepared their tea that fastidiously during finals, but many said they and their friends have rituals they take seriously. 

Jasmine Dillon, a junior majoring in business needs a magic pencil. “I can’t use anyone else’s pencil,” she said. “I have to use my own.” She had been relying on the pencil she used to ace her accounting exam her sophomore year, but she lost it. “That’s why everything’s going down hill,” she joked. “I need to adopt another one.” 

Whereas Richards said it’s best to sit on the left side of the exam room, Brie Betz, a first year undergraduate studying environmental science said it’s best to sit in the back. “I just try to be in my own little world,” she said. “I usually need to have some space to not feel so intimidated by people finishing early.” 

Some people wear special clothes to exams. Goldberg said she has a friend in mechanical engineering who wears t-shirts he wore to represent his high school in science competitions to his science exams. When he takes a physics exam, he wear his physics t-shirt, never his chemistry t-shirt, she said. “He got a 200 out of 200 on his last midterm,” she said. “It just gave him confidence.” 

Goldberg uses chocolate to reward herself during exams, she said. She takes a bar of it and breaks it up into bits. When she finishes a section of the exam, she drops a bite into her mouth. She developed that ritual while doing homework. “I’m constantly eating half of the time,” she said. “I’m eating instead of doing my work. I figured I should use it as a reward system.”