How far will you go for a first?

Think you’re having a difficult time this exam period? We talk to some students who take revision to the extreme

Dutch Courage

Most student aren’t shy when it comes to knocking back the shots in Willow. Yet for some, alcohol has become a dangerous coping method for getting through the exam period.

As tempting as a tipple might seem to get you through the height of revision mania, alcohol is more likely to disadvantage your exam preparation than enhance it. As a depressant, boozing makes you less energetic in the long run, dulling your concentration and motivation, not to mention the consenquenting health risks that stem from alcohol reliance.

“I honestly don’t think I could get through without a drink”

A second year student at Chelsea College of Art tells us that she started drinking in order to relieve stress, but this, unfortunately, led her quickly towards a downward spiral: “The only thing that seems to help me relax on the build up to a deadline is a big drink of whiskey. I honestly don’t think I could get through without a drink”.

Another student at the University of York tells us how drinking became a regular occurrence during revision for her and her housemates: “We were all losing the plot a bit with so much work. We decided that we would do a shot of vodka every hour on the hour to keep us going. Needless to say, it went downhill from there.”

Alcoholic beverages aren’t the only drinks that students are turning to over exams. Energy drinks are even more popular, attracting students with their guaranteed caffeine buzz, cheap retail price and wide availability.

Despite the fact that energy drinks can be bought all over campus, most students aren’t fully aware of their negative side-effects. “I drank seven cans of Monster to get through an all-nighter once and spent the next day being sick”, a second year University of York Accounting, Business, Finance and Management student tells us.

whiskey image to use

Tame as this may sound compared to other nights spent during your time at university, stories such as these should not be taken lightly. The high amounts of caffeine found in energy drinks and coffee can lead to insomnia, vomiting, anxiety, headaches, and even cardiac arrest. Some students have even reported experiencing heart palpitations during exams from drinking too much coffee.

The worrying thing is that most of us do not realise how much is too much. You might be surprised to know that the recommended maximum daily dose of caffeine amounts to approximately one large Starbucks coffee. Any more than this and you risk suffering some serious side-effects.

Matter of life and death

Oxbridge exams are notoriously challenging: “I got 70 per cent and above in some of my papers last year and ended up with a 2:2”. But for many current students we’ve spoken to, it’s the high pressured university environment during the revision and exam period that’s the hardest to cope with. “People become work machines,” one second year Cambridge medic tells us, “but they also become awful people who cant hold conversations.”

“People try to jump off when they’re overcome by stress”

Over the years, students have been driven to take their own lives due to their not being able to cope with the stress. After considerable media coverage of the pressures put upon some of the most intellectual students in the world, the universities now put measures in place to prevent such tragedies: “Usually you can climb to the top of college chapel towers and look out over Cambridge. But in summer they stop you because people try jump off when they’re overcome by exam stress.”

Whilst the exam period itself is the time in which you’d expect students to feel the most vulnerable, Cambridge uses these precautionary methods for a largely extended duration of the academic year: “People used to do it relatively frequently, so now they close them at the beginning of exam term – so after Easter – until all the exams have finished, as a preventative action.”

“A medic student a few years ago killed themselves by lethal injection during exam term”

Whilst the university is strict with such preventative measures, this doesn’t stop students from finding a tragic way out of having to face their exams, something that their contemporaries find hard to deal with: “They don’t even let you up accompanied or with your parents incase you might want to commit group or family suicide, which is sick when you think about it. We all make a joke of it but its really sad that they have to do it. A medic student a few years ago killed themselves by lethal injection during exam term. It’s just not nice to think about; it’s so close to home.” Unfortunately these incidents are not unique to Oxbridge.

All drugged up

With the pressure on to do well, students find themselves reaching for a bit of extra help during exams with some taking extreme measures.

Studies show that 1 in 5 students have tried study drugs such as modafinil which claim to increase concentration and memory.

While it is not illegal to possess or buy modafinil, a prescription-only drug used to treat narcolepsy, it is illegal to sell it, meaning that, as with anything sold illegally, you can’t be sure what you’re getting. Many of the pills are shipped from abroad and range from sugar-coated placebos to the real thing, to possibly toxic substances.

Student

There are also a number of unpleasant side-effects attached to the drug, including nausea, headaches, diarrhoea, tremors, nervousness, confusion, insomnia, palpitations and unusual behaviour. Not only this, but scientists admit that they don’t actually know what the long-term side-effects of the drug are.

Yet some students we spoke to seem to be pleased with the results and unconcerned by these side-effects. “I felt they helped give me an edge in terms of revision. Facts seemed to stick in my head better, I procrastinated less and worked for longer periods. The only drawback was the frequent trips to the library 2nd floor toilets,” a third year Economics student at the University of York reported.

A second year Psychology student at the Univeriy of East Anglia told us: “I use them very infrequently, but coming up to exams they can help you focus and maintain concentration for longer – useful for last minute cramming! During very stressful times I find them effective, whether or not this is a placebo effect I don’t know, but they also come with annoying side effects like disturbed sleep patterns and feelings of anxiety. I know that some people are very opposed to using them due to their unknown long term effects, but the same people down 10 jäegerbombs and half a litre of Vodka on a Thursday night, so it’s hard to draw the line on what can be determined as risky behaviour.”

“Getting the pills was pretty easy and cheap”

Another student, studying History and Politics at the University of Lancaster claimed: “Never before had I experienced as much stress as third year of Uni. I never expected the work load to be so high. Getting it all done was affecting my sleeping and it was too much to bear. Getting the pills was pretty easy and cheap. Everyday I would wake up, take two and get all my work done at lightening speed. Right away I was doing better at uni and I just felt more relaxed.”

Other students however report break-downs in relationships due to irritability and unusual behaviour brought on by the drugs. The extreme focus it can cause results in the user completely forgetting to function in other ways. Students go the whole day without eating, drinking or showering – all they do is work. While this may sound like exactly what you need to tackle that tricky exam, your health is important if you want to perform well.

Strangely, some students even push legal drugs to their utter limits in order to get through the worry and stress of exams. One second year student we spoke to at London College of Fashion has restored to snorting Pro Plus in a bid to find that extra boost for revision. “Pro plus is great, but when it’s inhaled through the nose it enters the bloodstream so much faster. I can stay up all night caning revision—it’s fab!”

Pro Plus is an over the counter tablet that contains 100mg of caffeine and is designed to relieve the symptoms of fatigue and tiredness, helping users feel more active and alert. The tablets, however, are advertised as a temporary measure, and over-use of the pills can lead to negative side effects, including problems with sleeping.

One second year English student at the University of York has experienced the negative physical reactions that Pro Plus can cause. “I once took about six Pro Plus tablets in one go in a desperate bid to stay up all night to complete an essay. At about 4am, my eyes started to vibrate, and my vision went incredibly blurry. It was pretty concerning; I’d never experience anything like it. But I did get the essay in on time…”

Are a few extra marks really worth illness and irritability? We think we’ll stick to coffee – and not too much of it at that!

UoB library hermit

For many of us, time spent in the library increases dramatically over the exam period. However, for one student at the University of Birmingham, this has been taken to the extreme. The ‘UoB Library Hermit’ has been set the challenge of living in the Birmingham University library non-stop for six weeks in an attempt to achieve a 72 per cent average in his final exams – in order to simply pass his degree.

“I fucked up. I fucked up big time”

Whilst most of us struggle with minimal motivation and increasingly appealing, ‘screw it, I’ll become a stripper/join a circus/be a perpetual gap year student’ thoughts passing through our minds, the Hermit has a more appealing goal to set his eyes on: “I fucked up. I fucked up big time. I called my older brother, who works for a top law firm, and explained to him my situation. He has offered to pay off my entire student loan if I pass my degree.”
His Facebook page, which has over 13, 000 ‘likes’, lays out the details, the ‘rules’ and the provisions permitted for his task. A cross between ‘Spotted: University of York Library’, a personal diary and a charitable challenge page, a read of the ‘UoB Library Hermit’s’ posts makes for an entertaining revision distraction, ironically: “So join me on my journey as I attempt the impossible, as I lose the will to both study and live, and observe my ramblings as my sanity slowly unravels. I’m going down the rabbit hole.”

“I feel like I’m starting to go crazy”

Eloquent and witty and full of honest expletives, the Hermit’s posts are indeed gradually deteriorating in optimism. We wonder for just how long he’ll be able to keep up the challenge: “Feel like I’m starting to go crazy. Studying all day everyday, sleeping on the floors in disabled toilets, periodical archives and people’s offices that they forget to lock. Very little human interaction except with the nice ladies in the iLounge. I can’t sleep tonight. About three hours ago I spent a while stood outside the main library just gazing up at the night sky, looking in wonder at the stars, and questioning why I was put on Earth, asking myself why I am here. “I surrendered myself to the Universe, and in a broken whisper, cried out: ‘Why am I here?’ And to my surprise, the Universe replied. ‘Because you never went to lectures and you drink too much, you fucking tit.’”

One comment

  1. 27 May ’14 at 10:07 pm

    Recovering Addict

    Substance abuse to cope with stress is an incredibly dangerous and slippy slope. Both the university and the union have a seriously and worryingly inadequate policy on substance abuse compared to some unions. Not in the sense that they implicitly condone it, not by any means, but there seems to be a complete lack of any kind of serious awareness campaign about the dangers of alcohol and drugs as a coping mechanism, not to mention a lack of resources (beyond the wonderful Nightline staff) for people who have problems or might be developing them. I came to university already in recovery from addiction but contrary to popular belief some students do become addicts and alcoholics at uni; it’s a serious problem and more needs to be done to address it.

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