I have kind of a supplemental question to the OP's (1L, 2nd term here @ lower-tier school)
At least with respect to the 2nd semester (and perhaps beyond) does a given teacher adjust his grading to be harder, easier, or no change at all as compared to someone taking their 1st-term finals?
I only ask because generally, at least with respect to 1st term vs 2nd term, the class remains the same - same size/same people/same subjects (sometimes) and the only thing that differs greatly is whether or not you have the same professor as 1st term or a different one (aside from those who drop out, of course).. so I'm just wondering if teachers (always) assume that, when grading a final beyond 1st-term, s/he grades with the assumption that the student has went through 1st term, possibly passed all of those classes, and has a firm grasp on what to expect and how to repair - thus making a good grade tougher to get.
Apologies if this has already been answered - I didn't have the time to read through everything in detail prior to posting this. Thanks to anyone that can help.
Since grades are curved, I can't see how that would change the final result.
To the OP's question, the mood around my school definitely seems different. I also notice more people furiously copying down every word the professor says. Maybe not the best way to do better, but it seems to indicate people are more in tune. Even the people who slacked off during class last semester are listening attentively.
I'm not doing anything different in class, but my out-of-class preparing will definitely be more rigorous this semester. There's too much riding on second semester to give it anything less than your best effort.