Hello. I am the ghost from finals weeks past. I come to you now because, if I waited till finals week, my counsel would be of no use. I am not a magician, but if you throw in some R’s onto my report card it spells out ABRACADABRA. I am not an authority, but I have some terrifying stories I would hate to see repeated. Consider me a version of yourself hopping out of a time machine ready to impart a few stories that may spur you to set higher hopes for your freshman, sophomore, junior, and maybe even senior year.
Caffeine: Freshman year I built up my tolerance to caffeine so high that I consumed a daily average of 10-12 10 oz. cups of coffee a day. Coffee has no effect caffeine-wise after your body has had time to adjust. In fact, consuming a fresh pot of coffee in the middle of the night to stay awake has the warming effect of hot chocolate on a cold winter's night--you curl up, and you end up asleep. Keep a low standard intake if you love coffee, otherwise save it for when you really need to stay up.
Sleep: Fall semester of sophomore year I took Linear Algebra, Statistics, and General Physics II and went nocturnal. I discovered that you could make “all nighters” a regular thing as long as you sleep for two or three hours when you do said “all nighters.” I have more memories of night on campus than I do of the day. Caffeine may not provide the study spike you need to stay awake but I found that high regular intake can reduce the number of hours my body demanded to sleep by as much as an hour for every 5 cups of coffee a day. I may have only technically closed my eyes to sleep 2-4 hours a night, but, when one sleeps that little, your body will be a zombie for the number of hours a day your body wishes it had. Sugar and caffeine highs only mask these effects. This little sleep caused me great fatigue over time and caused me to misread my finals schedule. I did not discover this until the night before and needless to say I failed my Linear Algebra Final and the class.
Food: Don’t poison yourself. Last spring, I went on a frozen pizza run and selected an organic wheat pizza instead of a gluten free pizza (a glaring violation of my dietary restrictions) on a Thursday night, missed classes Friday, did not regain my appetite till Sunday and was barely ready to go to class by Monday. Most people do not live with this degree of culinary danger, but poison can be applied to a variety of ingestible foods and beverages. If they don’t prepare you for your studies, they hurt your studies. Sugary and caffeinated foods and drinks come with a crash.
Social: Consider that turning into a hermit can have drastic effects on productivity as well. Just last Spring semester I entered a hermit-like state for about a month in order to carve away at a great stake of assignments. However, I found that I was naturally inclined to socialize regardless of whether I allocated my time for studying. I was really just missing the fun events and group ordeals. I simply needed to acknowledge that I have a social need as well and plan accordingly.
This leads me to my last point. Be an Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 student. There is a time for everything. If you think you just need to cut out the part of you that needs food, drink, friends, recreation, exercise, entirely, well, that’s the sleep deprivation getting to you. Success is using careful forethought to intentionally use your time to fill a plethora of study needs across a reasonable span of time. So figure it out now, and read your finals schedules and mark them on the calendar before sleep deprivation has set in.
You will probably make similar mistakes at some point during your time at Covenant despite reading these things. Part of the independence that comes with college years is the ability to make your own mistakes and learn from them. My hope is that you will read this and have slightly less consequential mistakes in these aspects of your study and self care life. So let this be an early reminder to start studying for finals now!