Just mentioning the tests causes some to panic.
But for students, teachers and administrators at the University of California at Merced, this year's midterms — the first for the inaugural class — are a chance to reflect. And not just to look back on what's happened in the classroom, but also to examine their school and themselves.
UC Merced wasn't Lisa Markman's first choice. She applied to several universities, but was accepted at Merced. The 18-year-old Modestan decided to live on campus, throw herself into school and see what happened.
"I'm really getting along here," she said. "I like the people and how everyone always tries to get you involved with what's going on."
She and a friend discussed starting a sorority, but it's a long process, and they missed some deadlines. Maybe next year. For now, she's joining a vegetarian club.
Because she lives close to home, she visits her family every couple of weekends. But she and her roommates have discovered other ways to spend time out of class, from taking part in campus activities to hanging out at a nickel arcade.
Markman said she enjoys watching her schoolmates play soccer in a recreation league and likes living in a dormitory with new friends.
One lesson she's learning is how to live on her own.
"Now I realize why I need to shop for the bargains," she said.
Taking responsibility for yourself is something the university tries to teach.
Leslie Santos, assistant director of residence life, said she sees students grow as the semester wanes, from those used to a structured home life to others learning to manage themselves.
"Initially, when they got here, they had a lot of time on their hands," Santos said. "Now, they say they don't have enough time."
Most students who were homesick at the start have adapted, she said, making friends and finding support systems.
While dorm officials have had to shut down a few parties and one makeshift dance club in a dorm living room — complete with black lights — Santos said she sees students buckling down.
"I personally found them to be a lot more free-spirited at the beginning of the semester," Santos said. "Now we're coming off midterms, and that was an eye-opening experience about what the university expects."
There's a big difference between high school and university, said Jane Lawrence, vice chancellor for student affairs, and it's the school's responsibility to help the students understand that.
"My sense is that we're making that transition," Lawrence said. "Everybody is adjusting."
She said students are seeking help and university services and taking part in a lot of the activities, from Family Weekend to the recent Napoleon Dynamite Week in honor of the hit movie.
The university's departments are getting involved, too. Each will sponsor events, from the winter formal to Alcohol Awareness Week put on by the Office of Student Life and the university police department.
The school has a student-focused culture, Lawrence said.
"We're here for student success," she said. "I see faculty and staff here being more caring and more willing to help than at other schools I've been at."
Because it's a new campus, students have opportunities they might not have had at established universities. For example, many students can be involved in research projects, and Lawrence said she sees them taking advantage of those chances.
"It's clear they are studying more,"Lawrence said. "You canstart to see good decisionmaking."
Professor Jeffrey Yoshimi, who's in his first tenure-track teaching position, said he's impressed with the almost 80 students in his philosophy class.
"They challenge me," he said.
Marsha Bond, 31, commutes from Ceres. The junior transfer student from Modesto Junior College is working for UC Merced, giving campus tours and working on building student government. She's on one of several committees discussing how student leadership will come together.
The students are drafting theschool's constitution and planning for spring elections.
In between her job and student government, Bond takes classes and sets an example for her junior-high-school-aged son, as she shows him how college works.
She said classes have been enjoyable and have been about what she expected.
"MJC prepared me very well," she said. "I feel at home here."
Even though she's older than most of her classmates, Bond said the experience is the same.
"We're all new here," she said.
The first two months of school have taught 18-year-old Fatima Barragan more than she expected.
She likes her classes, she said, though they are harder than she expected.
But the graduate of Modesto's Johansen High said her experience is common. "It takes a lot more study than I thought it would," she said.
Barragan said she had to learn what — and how — to study and was able to improve her grades the second time around.
She receives a lot of encouragement from her older brother, who went to UC Davis, and from her older sister, who recently earned a teaching credential.
On weekends, she often goes home to see her parents.
Living on campus has taught her something else, too.
"I was very dependent on my parents," Barragan said. "You think they are always going to be there, and now, I'm here on my own. I miss them a lot. It makes me appreciate them."
Bee staff writer Lorena Anderson can be reached at 667-1227 or email@example.com.