Special Section Spring Finals Edition

All-nighters, cramming not effective finals strategies for students

finals week

Cramming for finals is less effective when students take classes with detail-oriented, problem-solving tests. | Xavier Lane/The Cougar

As finals week approaches, some University of Houston students are struggling to find enough time in the day to study for all of their exams, so they inevitably pull an all-nighter and stay awake for up to 36 hours. While it may seem helpful or necessary at the time, it can lead to negative side effects.

Christopher Scott, the associate director of Counseling and Psychological Services, said individuals in their late teens and early 20s should get seven to nine hours of sleep per night. When people deprive themselves of sleep, he said, their alertness is reduced and their memory and cognitive functioning is impaired.

“Students often get into the habit of cramming in high school or taking introductory content-focused courses that focus on the memorization of facts,” Scott said. “This strategy, however, becomes less effective when projects and exams become more detail-oriented and require problem-solving.”

There are situations, Scott said, where cramming is counterproductive: when a student has already engaged in some preparation, when the exam requires a detailed reading of the instructions with complex problem-solving and when students are already sleep deprived.

“Students tend to underestimate the negative effects of sleep deprivation,” Scott said, “and effective study habits require a level of analysis which is much easier when one is alert and rested.”

The consequences of sleep deprivation, Scott said, could be fatal. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, over 1,500 deadly auto accidents are caused by sleep deprivation.

Drinking a Red Bull or several cups of coffee might provide a short burst of energy, but eventually the body needs sleep. Mathematics freshman Jesus Sanchez learned this the hard way last semester.

“Last semester I pulled an all-nighter for my geology class, and I had the exam at 8 a.m. the next day,” Sanchez said. “I stayed up all night studying for it. Then around 7 (a.m.), I fell asleep and I woke up exactly at 8, and I just rushed to campus. I was already too late, but luckily the professor let me redo the test.”

Although he pulled an all-nighter again last week — this time more successfully — Sanchez said he’d prefer to study a different way.

“The all-nighter’s good, but I prefer not cramming everything on the last day,” he said. “You gotta pace yourself.”

Cecilia Sun, the assistant director at CAPS, advises overwhelmed students to practice deep breathing and relaxation techniques to cope with finals.

To alleviate stress, Sun said, students should separate tasks into manageable parts. Rather than set an undefined goal like “study for math for four hours,” students should take a practice quiz, review incorrect items, then do five sample problems similar to the ones that were incorrect.

“Talk to yourself kindly, as you would a friend,” she said. “‘You can do it. With some rest, you’ll be able to think clearly at your exam.’”

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