Last semester, I did all my readings for one of my classes. I participated in class discussions, and I went above and beyond — surprising even myself — and found myself consistently in office hours. My work ethic made it seem like I had a steady grasp on the class. I understood all the concepts, I discussed them with my GSI, and I successfully turned in all of my homework.
But participation and homework accounted for only 25 percent of my grade, and the other 75 percent — which could make or break my GPA — was in the hands of two flimsy, green Scantrons. My effort through the semester didn’t really mean too much, and my final, which was most of my grade, was based on the last few weeks of instruction. I crammed through dead week and did fine in the class, but I also didn’t sleep for a week.
That’s why I absolutely hate dead week. It gives people who slacked an edge to cram a semester’s worth of information into one sleep-deprived week, and it can set back the people who actually cared about the class. As final exams creep closer and closer, and I sink lower down into the depths of Main Stacks, exams turn less from a test of how much I have learned over the semester and more into a challenge of how long my overcaffeinated body can stay functional.
My decision to attend one of the best universities in the country wasn’t to test my physical resilience. As college students normalize cramming for tests and pulling all-nighters, we put grades first and let our our health take a back seat. Not getting enough sleep can have harmful effects on our performance. But, it’s easy to ignore this — it’s just a week, I’m strong, I can stay up a couple of days to finish those chapters. Besides, everyone else in Moffitt Library is doing it, too, and they’re the ones setting the curve.
A UC Berkeley researcher, Eti Ben-Simon, found that a lack of sleep can increase anxiety levels by 30 percent. Coupled with coffee jitters and complete exhaustion, your performance on final exams is no longer based on how smart you are or how much you understand the material, but instead on how far past normal limits you can push your body. Another study indicates that persistent poor sleep can inhibit the ability to form long-term memories and can lead to the early onset of Alzheimer’s disease.
Finals are also an important time to look out for your friends and classmates who might be having a hard time coping. For example, I might have days to prepare for an exam, but someone else could have two finals on the same day, plus a part-time job. You might think that dead week isn’t as bad as people make it out to be, but be mindful of those around you who might not be able to deal with it the same way.
In addition to this, do yourself a favor and look after your own health. Living in libraries, staying up all night and downing energy drinks aren’t things to take lightly. You’re opening yourself up to the chance of serious harm and weakening your cognitive functions.
These habits aren’t necessarily things that students can avoid. I know how unhealthy dead week can be, but I’m still going to spend at least a few nights in a library. Other UC Berkeley students probably will, too. We’re competitive, and we aren’t going to slack on studying to get eight hours of sleep because a research study said we should. At the end of the day, those researchers aren’t the ones with finals — they don’t understand. University Health Services can bring as many dogs to Sproul Plaza as it wants, but that won’t make me pause and think about my mental health when I have a project due Wednesday and three exams a week later.
It isn’t all in our hands. Our institution shouldn’t drive us to have to compromise our health for academic success.
Professors need to pay more attention to the needs of their students. This semester, the final for one of my classes is worth 40 percent of my grade. To make it even more exciting, I’m lucky enough to take this exam from 7-10 p.m. in the very last shift of finals, right after another exam. After a week of nonstop cramming, I already know I will not be at my peak. For classmates who already suffer from anxiety or high stress, it’ll be even worse. Before patting tired, unhappy students on the back for a job well done, professors need to consider whether the structures of their classes actually test understanding — or just promote toxic habits and encourage students to neglect their own well-being.