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Where We Study

During finals week, students contemplate and learn in shared spaces

Stephanie Gross

When finals are approaching at UVA, the air seems charged with anticipation as students take to the libraries and cafés en masse and energy drinks fly off the shelves. The most common and dreaded questions are,“When is your first exam?” and “Have you started studying yet?” They trigger emotions ranging from sheer panic to determination. With their extensive resources and proximity to central Grounds, Alderman and Clemons libraries are the most popular locations for students to study. Alderman welcomes students with a bright foyer lit from the windows in the vaulted ceiling, a café and a help desk staffed by librarians who are willing to explain the stacks to uninitiated first-years. The fourth floor buzzes with highly caffeinated students, but those who want quiet can opt for the McGregor Room on the second floor of Alderman, where one can work surrounded by warm walnut walls, sparkling chandeliers and comfortable chairs. During finals week, the McGregor Room is always full of silent students.

Clemons Library boasts three floors for study and an extensive media library, plus it’s almost always open. When classes are in session, starting every Sunday at 10 a.m., the library stays open 24 hours a day until Friday at midnight. Upon entering, students mill about, talking with friends in the booths looking out onto the courtyard, or work together at one of the stations equipped with monitors, power outlets and rolling chairs. The lower floors of Clemons are quieter. On the first floor, the silence is testament to the concentration that goes into prolonged effort.

Economics major Ellen Janssen (Col ’12) says, “Clemons has the first floor and Alderman has the Scholar’s Lounge, and I need to move every few hours of studying, so it’s great the two are right next to each other.”

Some students, like Simon Lee (Com ’13), prefer a workplace popular with students from his area of study, such as Rouss Hall, which houses the McIntire School of Commerce. In the adjoining Robertson Hall, one of the newer buildings on Grounds, the reading room has a sophisticated flair, with brick walls and plush red carpet. Besides his formal exams, he also had an extensive take-home project. “We get exactly five days to do a complete analysis of a company using knowledge integrated from our classes,” Lee says. “It takes a lot of time and a lot of writing, around 50 to 60 total hours of work, so time management is important.”

At the Arthur J. Morris Law Library, law students start studying for exams as early as the beginning of November. Tucked away next to the Law School in North Grounds, the elegant library has hardwood desks and brass lamps, and extensive legal materials. A single exam determines many a law student’s grade for the entire course. Law students in their second year can opt for flex exams, which can be picked up in the morning or afternoon and completed at school on a day of the student’s choosing. Alexandra Aurisch (Law ’12) says, “The flex exam system is great, since students differ in the number of exams they have to take, and the flex system allows us to spread them out in a way that works best for us.”

Attached to the UVA Hospital, the Claude Moore Health Sciences Library features fine art on its walls and is the go-to study spot for nursing, biomedical engineering and medical students. “It’s nowhere near as crowded as other libraries and it’s so much more pleasant because it’s spacious and it has the greatest medical books,” says Anna Gainey (Nurs ’13). Last semester, Gainey also studied at the Center for Christian Study on Chancellor Street. Only minutes from the Rotunda, it has a homey feel with dark wood floors covered with antique rugs and stairs leading to a small library with a wall of windows looking out over the mountains. Gainey says, “It doesn’t stress me out. The people there are helpful, and there’s free food, too.”

Ellen Janssen says a distraction-free environment is best for studying, but stress can be a distraction itself, as she discovered last semester when she walked into an exam at 9 a.m. “I realized I was in a room full of first-year Econ students and my exam was in the evening,” she says. “I was so caught up in studying I forgot.”