While some responsible pupils start preparing early, final exams equate to late-night cram sessions accompanied by No Doz and pots of coffee for many university students.
Linda Marshall, assistant director at Kansas University's Student Assistance Center, said procrastination was the primary problem most students have when preparing for finals. Marshall has taught workshops on time management and test-taking strategies for four years. She recently conducted a session on preparing for finals.
``They wait too long to start,'' she said, ``but that is not something that is very helpful to say at this point. If the final is on Monday, I'd say study four hours Friday, four hours Saturday, four hours Sunday and four hours before the test on Monday instead of doing it all the night before.
``It is possible to cram information, but it won't stay with you. If it's something in your major, you wouldn't want to spend all your time and energy learning something that won't stay with you.''
If students feel they must study all night, Marshall said they should be aware of certain facts. While an intense night-long review session may be helpful, trying to cram new material usually isn't very productive.
Marshall also said research had shown that people study better during the daytime rather than at night.
``You could spend three hours doing something that would have taken you one hour to do during the daytime, high-energy hours,'' she said. ``Also, when you do sleep you need to sleep in four- to six-hour blocks, because that's how much time it takes to get into REM, or deep sleep, where you really rest.
``Say, for example, you study until 2 in the morning and decide to go to sleep until 4 and then wake up and study again. Your study when you wake up is not going to be as good as if you had just stayed up an extra half hour before going to bed.''
Lack of sleep the night before an exam also hampers students' cognitive processes, Marshall said.
``It can reduce your ability to think clearly by as much as 30 percent,'' she said. ``If you've gotten yourself into a bind where you're going to fail, then you have to make a choice.''
For students who did not prepare early, Marshall had some advice for maximizing remaining study time. Students should find out all they can about what material to be covered on an exam. To do that, they should not hesitate to talk to their professors or look through old exams on file.
If there is not enough time to study all the material a test will cover, Marshall said students should decide what information they know least well and set their priorities accordingly. Students should also use the priority method if they have more than one exam on the same day.
``It's very hard to know what to say when time is short,'' she said. ``I think you need to decide which is your hardest test or which class you have a possibility of affecting your grade in. Try to allocate your time according to those priorities. Being a good time manager can really pay off at this point.''
Marshall said students who have more than two exams on the same day might be able to use a University policy to reschedule one of their tests. However, that policy states students must talk to the instructor of their highest-level course two weeks before the end of the semester if they want to take the exam at another time.
``Students may not realize there is any relief,'' she said. ``Even now, it doesn't hurt to ask. Somebody might be compassionate.''
Marshall Jackson, administrative associate at the assistance center, said many students had been coming into the office during the past week looking for tutors for final exams.
``We've had students coming in looking at our tutor book,'' he said. ``That generally gets a little heavier around this time, but it's kind of late to be getting that type of help.
``I think at this time students get kind of nervous and desperate and they come in for a tutor for a quick-fix. It generally takes longer than that to improve on a grade in a class.''