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Friday, July 20, 2012

First-Year Revelations: Finals Week

“I’m tellin’ ya, Sojourner, I’ll flunk out if I don’t get, at least, a B on my Psych and Soc exams. I need to pull an all-nighter, for sure.” My friend’s anxiety was the most common thread of all conversations in the Freshman Commons where the first-year students were served meals. Sociology 101 (shortened to Soc—pronounced “Sowsh”) and Psychology 101 were held in the university’s theatre because each first-year class had hundreds of students. As a result, students never felt the pressure of professors paying any attention to them, especially if late and seated in the back. If one read the textbook, however, one could pretty well pass the exams, other than the final exam. The final exam was based on both the textbook and lectures that contained elements of information not in the textbook. Not only that but, for most courses, the final was 50% of the final grade for the course. Important? You bet; a poor result on just the final could mean you repeat the course.

“I’ve done okay so far, but I’ve never had so much riding on one exam either so who knows? Don’t ya think stayin’ up all night to study would make ya do worse, though? I mean, can ya think clearly if ya’ve not had any sleep?”

“Good grief, Sojourner, we’re not talkin’ thinkin’ clearly here! Everyone knows it’s about spittin’ out memorized facts. They’re multiple choice exams and ya don’t have time to think. Ya just need to know and fill in that little A, B, C, or D square on the answer form. Don’t know ‘bout you, but sleep will erase everything I memorized so I can’t take a chance.”

“But, how can ya stay awake? Do ya take drugs or somethin’?” My friend reached into her backpack and pulled out a box of No-Doze tablets.

“Some of the kids do take the hard stuff to stay awake and then somethin’ else to sleep between times, but I don’t want to get that started so I tell them no when asked. Some kids drink a lot of coffee; but, so far, I haven’t acquired a taste for that bitter stuff.” I agreed with both…not wanting to take hard drugs to stay awake or to sleep and not liking the taste of coffee. “Exactly, so you need some of these little white cups of coffee right here. Listen to this, ‘One No-Doze is safe and easy. The caffeine jolt is no different than drinking a cup of coffee.’ So, you see, this is your ticket to that all-nighter you know you need, Sojourner.”

“I’m not so sure I need them; I’m probably nervous enough to just plain stay awake on my own.”

Okay, well, you know where I am if you change your mind. We’ll all be in the lounge after midnight, except for those who are fortunate enough to have a roommate who also has exams tomorrow. Look, Sojourner, this is a part of being  a university student. Mom and Dad aren’t around to tell you to get to bed or turn out your light. Everyone stays up all night studying during Finals Week. It’s just part of this life.” We left for our separate dorm rooms to study but the conversation did keep rolling in my mind.

By midnight, I was still wide awake. My roommate had dropped out of school during the quarter so I had no real reason to leave my room. However, I was curious as to what might be happening in the lounge. Gathering my notebooks, I headed up the hallway. The sound of students repeating those standard Psychology 101 facts greeted me as I crossed the threshold. “Hey, ‘bout time, Sojourner! Pull up a cushion and sit. We’ve all got the Psych final tomorrow at 8, when’s yours?”

“Mine’s at 8, too. Mind if I join you for a bit?” No one objected. Sitting on the floor, only one student holding the open notebook, we all chimed in with answers to questions. Each student took his turn being the leader and, I had to admit, it was a good way to review the memorized materials. Plus, we had a lot of fun with some of the wrong answers given.

By 4 AM I was feeling the first pull of fatigue. Others must have, too, because the coffee pot was started again and some kids took pills. I was torn as to what I should do. I wanted to sleep but I also saw the benefit in the group approach to review.

“Here, Sojourner, have a cup of coffee?” I didn’t immediately look up from my notebook because I was skimming the material to find things we had not yet reviewed. I started to decline the offered brew but glanced up before I spoke.

My friend was standing in front of me with a little white No-Doze tablet in her palm. At first I shook my head but then reconsidered. “Okay, I’ll have just one cup.” We both laughed, downed our tablet and joined the others in some kind of junk food snack.

Before I knew it, the clock read 7 AM. There were some stragglers but most of us left en masse to take showers to revive us. No need for breakfast; we’d been snacking all night, right? I knocked at my friend’s dorm room door to ask if she was ready to head for the theatre. She was just popping her little white cup of coffee and offered me my second one. “Ya really need to take this, Sojourner. I mean, the others are drinking their caffeine so why not join them without the awful taste of coffee? It’ll give ya a boost to get through those two hours of regurgitating the facts we crammed into our heads all night.” Thinking of it as a cup of coffee, I swallowed the No-Doze.

All the way to the exam the little study group of us chanted questions and answers like Marines on a march. It would have been a funny sight except that every sidewalk all over campus had little groups doing the same with whatever subject material they had spent the night cramming into their own heads.

Not being a coffee-drinker or No-Doze user prior to last night’s session, I found that, even after the exam was completed, I was shaky and nervous. Maybe I would have been, as an after-shock kind of thing, but this was my first experience with all-nighters so I didn’t really know. I, actually, did find that the study session helped and, surprisingly, I felt alert while taking the examination. I slept a lot of the rest of the day, once I could relax. By evening, I was ready to study for the next day’s morning final. I studied alone until midnight, joining the study group as I had the previous night. Unlike the night before, however, I went to bed at 5 AM, refusing the “cup of coffee”, electing to sleep. My second final was not until 10 AM so I reckoned I could sleep a couple of hours, get up to review a couple more hours, then go write the exam. I did take the No-Doze my friend insisted on before heading over for the examination. Frankly, I think it was a mental thing more than a physical need. I was tired, of course, but don’t think I probably needed the “coffee.”

Afterwards, I ate a quick lunch, had a quick nap and began reviewing for the second final of that same day. That was scheduled for 4 PM so I figured I’d have a couple of hours to review before I left. This was a Chemistry 101 final so I knew I didn’t need a lot of review to pass. I had an A average going into the final so would have to blow it really horrendously to fail the course. This was due to my high school chemistry teacher, completely. He had taught us how to think and reason out the answers instead of memorizing formulas. It served me well and I rarely ever studied Chemistry and, rarer still, missed a question on an exam.

I was so tired when I sat down to write the chemistry final that I regretted not taking a No-Doze; I just didn’t think I needed it for Chemistry. My reflexes were certainly slower when working on those problems and I was grateful there was no lab portion to this final. I might have blown up the building! I felt totally awful. I by-passed the Freshman Commons and supper, electing to head straight for bed. Sleep, glorious sleep; I needed sleep more than anything. I didn’t even hear my No-Doze distributor when she knocked on my door. I didn’t have another final until the day after so would spend tomorrow studying, assuming I ever woke up!

I did wake but not until about 6 AM the following morning, having slept just under 12 hours straight. I was so thirsty and ravenously hungry. For the first time in many moons, I actually went to breakfast, following a hot shower, of course. Since English had a term paper, not a final exam, I had only one final left, Friday, then it was home for Christmas break. I studied off and on, between naps, Thursday. At 10 PM Thursday night, I took a shower and went to bed. Yup, that’s what I said, bed! The midnight lounge experience held no temptation for me by the end of Finals Week. I just wanted to get that final examination over and go home.

I felt much better by 7 AM Friday but had trouble focusing on the exam questions. I was nearly finished; home was calling me. By Noon, I was in the air, high over those mountains, finals finished and school back there on the ground… I was free for the next three weeks!

What I learned from this experience was that God had not made us to deprive ourselves of sleep! I felt so awful for so much of the week that it was a struggle to call my brain to alertness after writing only about 25% of each exam. Yes, I did fine for that first exam but the rest were made much more difficult. The end results pleased my parents, as I had made the Dean’s List, but I am fairly sure I could not attribute it to the all-nighters. Well, maybe for that first final because I did seem to be able to pull the answers out a lot faster after the group review. Did I ever do it again? Oh sure I did; it was part of the university life, don’t ya know!

(It should here be noted that I got over the desire for the experience by the time I worked on that second degree. I found that going to bed early and getting up early worked even better… sadly, I had also acquired a love of that liquid form of caffeine, too, by then. The bottom line was that God was right… and so were my parents… there is a time to study and a time to sleep, if one wants to feel well enough to take the weeklong set of exams!

****Have a sunny, fun weekend!

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