Finals: Why sleep beats overstudying

Matthew Fogarty, Author

Over the past three and a half years I have spent at Palo Alto High School, I have told myself that I would study  for final exams. However, I always end up in the same place: my bed with Netflix playing on the computer.

From my brief self-description, many would assume that I am just not motivated to put any effort into school. However, this is absolutely false. I work hard all semester long. I participate in class, do my homework and study for tests, and I end up happy with my grades by the time finals week rolls around. What I mean to say is, I enjoy learning. I just think finals are not worthy of my time.

I believe finals should be a true test of how much students have learned throughout the year and of how much information they have retained on their own. Sure, you should review old notes and lectures in preparation for a final exam, but you shouldn’t try to teach yourself whole units of Environmental Science, because you just can’t learn it all in a five hour cramming session. It’s unhealthy and unrealistic.

The weekend before final exams should be used for more productive purposes than studying nonstop for 48 hours. Instead of curling up with an AP Psychology textbook, I relax and unwind, allowing my brain to recharge and become mentally prepared for the grueling tests that lie ahead. I usually spend the weekend in my room, pigging out on microwavable macaroni and cheese and, in between naps, taking multiple baths to cleanse my mind and body.

I have found that taking a break from reading and schoolwork for just those two days can be more beneficial than actually studying. The end of the semester marks the semiannual stress zone where almost everyone has no gas left in the tank for taking up to seven two hour tests. Add over ten or more hours of studying over the weekend before and your brain becomes mush.

While my friends and fellow classmates stay up until the wee hours of the morning forcing information into their brains, I am fast asleep, letting my unconscious take over to prepare myself mentally for what’s to come. Of course, I’ll briefly go over my notes before I head into each test — I just won’t stress myself out by studying unnecessarily.

Although many of us won’t admit it, we all know that finals should be a measure of how hard we have worked all year, not of how hard we’ve been studying for the past week to make up for our poor preparation over the course of the semester. Even if you don’t get As on your exams, you’ll do fine in your classes if you’ve tried your best throughout the semester.

So, when you’re looking through that Advanced Placement Biology textbook wondering what the heck you’re reading, put it down and take a hot bath with some aromatic bath salts. Find some microwavable noodles and eat away. Take a second to breathe, to relax, to let go of the unnecessary stress that takes over so many Paly students.

That’s what I’ll be doing.