News from the Tennessee Valley Current

Brandie Jones, a behavioral science major at Athens State College, studies for a linear algebra final.
Brandie Jones, a behavioral science major at Athens State College, studies for a linear algebra final.

Cram session
Sugar, caffeine and pause in social life among college students' necessities for final exams

By Danielle Komis 340-2447

Brigit McGuire and Joe Friday discussed pharmacology notes last week in the foyer of the Health Sciences building on Calhoun Community College's campus. Their brows were furrowed as they thumbed through the pages in binders open on their laps.

While hitting the mall for Christmas presents, putting up outdoor house lights and filling out an endless slew of holiday cards are priorities for many as the countdown to the holidays grows closer, local college students' priorities often don't include any of those things. Instead, students sacrifice their free time to study so that they can pull an A in a class, or simply pass it.

Brigit McGuire and Joe Friday prepare for their nursing final at Calhoun Community College.
Brigit McGuire and Joe Friday prepare for their nursing final at Calhoun Community College.
"(There's) no social life this weekend," said Calhoun nursing freshman Emily Zehr, who often studies with McGuire and Friday. "We have to study."

Zehr, along with McGuire and Friday, will have at least two class for which to study. Zehr is enrolled in 12 credit hours, but "it seems more like 24 hours" because of all the studying outside of class, she joked.

She and classmates often study together at each other's houses, or head to Starbucks at Barnes and Noble bookstore in Huntsville.

McGuire said her week is booked solid.

"I plan on doing nothing but studying this week," she said.

However, McGuire said she always makes sure to get the rest she needs during finals week or else she can't function properly, she said.

But Friday's strategy is different. He sometimes pulls all-night study sessions before his exams, taking only 30 minutes or so to sleep. A few years ago, he got sick because he took too many caffeine pills trying to stay awake.

"It'd probably work better if I study ahead of time," he said.

Distraction-free zone

Studying also is more effective when you study in a place that is free of distractions, students said.

Terry Smith, a biology senior at Athens State University, said that lately she wakes up early every morning and drives from Ardmore to Athens to start studying at 8 a.m. If she tries to study at home, her 15-month-old son inevitably distracts her.

"If I open a book, he'll tear it up," she said. She usually studies at Undergrounds Coffee Shop on campus, where she keeps her energy up by eating junk food and drinking frappucinos.

"When I'm stressed out, I have to have sugar," she said.

Her study partner, Aaron Clairday, a biology junior, said he depends on tea when he studies for finals — caffeinated tea, that is.

And when he eats during finals week, he's still studying by looking at his note cards, he said. For his three classes, he's used about 500 note cards.

Many students said the studying is a little easier nowadays thanks to the Internet, where some teachers post notes or practice tests. Many textbooks also have Internet sites with more practice problems or answers to problems in the book.

Or, sometimes you just get lucky and you'll find professors from other schools with their notes posted online.

"I just Google it," said Brandie Jones, a behavioral science junior.

Often, she's lucky and finds helpful information, she said.

Technology makes changes

Technology also has changed final exams over the years, said Mike Haghighi, a computer sciences teacher and chairman of the business/computer information systems division at Calhoun.

Now, many tests can be taken on computers and graded instantly.

But largely, studying for finals is still the same stressful time it was years ago, teachers said. Without fail, the number of students coming in for tutoring greatly increases around finals time, he said.

The increase is tough on teachers, who are planning next semester's classes while also trying to create exams and help students. Older, nontraditional students or those close to graduating tend to be the most concerned about their grades, he said.

But in one way, finals are a good time for students, because they mean that soon, the pain and torture will all be over — at least for that semester, Haghighi said.

"They're always relieved and glad to see the semester end."

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