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Freshmen Oliver Chern studies in his room in Hamilton College House for the upcoming Microeconomics final. (Trevor Grandle/The Daily Pennsylvanian)

Last Wednesday, some of Penn's best and brightest were practically accused by their professor of cheating on a weekly assignment by showing "too much camaraderie on quizzes." Ironically, this occurred in the most competitive class at Penn. Professor Herbert Levine scolded his anxious Microeconomics class for their alleged behavior concerning the Internet quizzes he had given. But in a class that has been described by many as "cutthroat," why would students dare help each other on tests? "Because we're all in it together," Wharton freshman Chris Dougherty explained. "Everyone wants to help each other." But based on the war stories told regarding this entry-level course, Dougherty may have to fend for himself now that the final is around the corner.

'Bombed out'

For Penn's more than 2,000 freshmen, the next couple of weeks will be their first experience in what college is notorious for -- the nightmare of finals. "It's possible that you could get a C while here at Penn," explained Bernadine Abad, an associate director for the Tutoring and Learning Resources Center. "The Penn student body is made up of bright students, many of whom have never seen a C in their lives. They are being tested in relationship to a whole new set of peers." The center offers tutors and old exams to all undergraduate students. Abad says he is all too familiar with the typical freshman scenario. "I think they may not have a regimen of study time," Abad said. "When reading days come, they feel that's their time to study. By that time, it's almost too late." The center's employees, whose primary customers are freshmen, are prepared for the worst. The center will be offering tutoring and cram sessions throughout the rest of the semester. "They come in towards this time when they've bombed out, and they realize they need help," Abad said.

Dead Man's Curve

The Microeconomics final is widely regarded as an impossible obstacle for uninitiated freshmen. The test, which falls on December 21 this year, inspires both anxiety and competition in students who take the course during their first semester at Penn. "I think the curve is what everybody is afraid of," Dougherty said. "You're graded against everybody else." The dreaded "Wharton Curve" has convinced many College, Engineering and Nursing students that the best time to take Microeconomics is during their second semester. Wharton students are required take the course in the fall semester. Based on the curve, only one third of the students in an economics class can achieve an A. The scale also forces one third of the students in each class to accept the grade of C or lower. "I've always felt that the first exam is the one that they have fears about," Levine said. Try telling that to Kellen Yamanaka, a College freshman still feeling the pressure as the semester comes to a close. Yamanaka has already had his fair share of stress. He struggled through the first Microeconomics midterm, and with the final less than a month away, the pressure has dramatically increased. "You always feel pressed for time," Yamanaka said. "You always barely understand it." But Yamanaka has come to terms with his stress, deciding that the best method of preparing for the final is to brace himself for the worst. "Everyone suffers through it," Yamanaka said. "I'm willing to take what I can get." What worries Loraine Steritt, the new College dean of freshmen, is that students will focus all of their energy on one test. "It's very important, obviously, to work hard," Steritt said. "But [you need] to keep things in perspective." She stressed that freshmen, especially, should concentrate on time management and devote time to preparing for all of their finals. "Studying for only the first exam is always tempting, [but] being aware of the big picture is also important," Steritt said.

How students cope

Wharton freshman Timothy Gardina chooses not to stress out about his impending final. "There's no point in worrying," he said. "You either get it or you don't." But, Gardina emphasized, any camaraderie which existed at the beginning of the semester has all but disintegrated in these crucial last weeks. "We all help each other as much as possible -- to a point," Gardina said. "But there's a point when it's every man for himself." Added Engineering freshman Oliver Chern: "You develop camaraderie with students outside of the class. Inside of the classroom, I do my thing and you do yours." So how do one third of Microeconomics students earn that coveted A? Levine, the economics professor, believes it takes more than just showing up to succeed in his class. "The lecture has become more important than it was," he said. "But the test is focused on students using the analytical tools that they have applied over the course of the semester." This may seem like an easy task, but Nursing and Wharton freshman Stephanie James is already concerned. "There's a lot of information on it," she said. "It covers a lot of material. It's going to take me a full week of studying every night." Dougherty believes that he'll be spending a lot of time hitting the books as well. "It's going to take lots of hours," he said. "We're covering so many chapters so quickly." Classmate Matt Bloom, a College freshman, stressed the importance of the three reading days -- not to mention the additional exam days. "Those [will be] big days for me," Bloom said. "I'll probably read nonstop." However, despite the concern that these students feel about the Microeconomics final, many prefer not to plan out their study patterns until time forces them to. "I guess I'll study for half a week," Yamanaka said. "If I did a full week, I'd be burned out by the time I had to take the test." One aspect of college life cannot be discounted in these trying times -- a good night's sleep. "I know this is easier said than done," said Steritt, the dean of freshmen. "But above all else, get sleep." Levine couldn't agree more. "[It's] especially important to relax the night before the exam," he said. Sleep deprivation, which often occurs during moments of intense cramming, can also deprive students of the success they seek on their finals. Much to the relief of students in Levine's class, their alleged misbehavior earlier in the semester will not be held against them. Levine announced to his class that, due to inconclusive evidence, the quiz grades in question will not be altered. After a quick sigh of relief, the students returned to their notebooks. The test is only weeks away, and some last minute scribbles just might give them a fighting chance.

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