Finalsweek: Don’t let YOU make YOUR life a living HELL

Elton Wong

Well, the days are getting shorter, and the temperature is no longer rising to 70-odd degrees much anymore. It must be December. Before college, I had fond memories of this time of year, when my friends and family could look forward to a nice winter break full of leisurely days, good food, sledding and evenings in front of the fireplace.

I will still get to do all those things this winter, but like Dante and every other student on every campus in the nation, I must pass through purgatory before I get to heaven. At Iowa State, hell is euphemistically refereed to as “finals week,” which appropriately is situated directly after “dead week.”

Neither week would be such a big deal if not for the fact that about 80 percent of the actual learning the average student does is done in the last few days before the exams. Well, I guess “learning” isn’t the best way to say it.

The more traditional descriptive word “cramming” doesn’t even seem sufficient. “Cramming” sounds kinda cutesy and innocent, like something you might do for an exam in high school, where nothing mattered. College is more serious.

By the time you’ve been awake for days and have 20 cups of coffee coursing through your blood, when you’re ready to kill yourself with a stapler to end the pain, you’re beyond cramming. When you get to the point when the little blue birds start visiting you and telling you stuff, it is kinda cool, I must admit.

This unfortunate scenario played out biannually by millions of students is often a direct result of procrastination. Normally, you’d figure that by the time you got to be a junior, you’d have learned your lesson. This is seldom the case. But why?

In this instance, a bit of philosophical reflection is in order. The ancient Greeks had a sort of puzzle that they used to illustrate problems with identity. There was once a great sailing ship of Thebes, the story goes.

This was the greatest ship ever known, and it was famous throughout the ancient world. The captain of the ship cared so much for it that whenever any plank, sail or board of the ship was scratched or damaged, he would have it removed and tossed into a shipyard.

A new plank or sail or whatever would replace the old one. Before long, every single part of the ship of Thebes had been replaced, and so there was an entire boat’s worth of parts sitting in a pile.

One day, all these old pieces were put together into a “new” ship. Which of these two ships was the true ship of Thebes?

The point of the story, besides the fact that the word “ship” becomes funny when you say it too many times in one paragraph, is that the identity of something is difficult to pin down. People, like boats, grow and change every day. We are truly not the same as we were a week ago.

That’s why it isn’t our fault that we procrastinated in our studies. It wasn’t really “us” that was doing the procrastinating. Instead of saying “damn it Elton, why didn’t you start reviewing transmission genetics before 2 a.m. the morning before the test instead of watching 15 days of James Bond movies on TBS,” I can say to myself “stupid past Elton, he didn’t do any studying, and now I have to suffer the consequences. It’s not my fault. What a dope that past Elton was.”

This principle can be carried further. For instance, there is a “normal self” and a “sleepy self.” By way of illustration, normal Elton wants to get work done and get good grades and that whole goody-two-shoes bit. Sleepy Elton (Elton before noon) wants to sleep. These two selves tend to disagree on many things, but when it’s cold outside and the bed is snuggly and warm, it’s usually sleepy self that wins out.

This theory is certainly as valid as anything I’ve heard from, say, Freud, in the sense that both my theory and his are totally made up. Thus, I think the examination policies of this university should change to reflect this psychological fact.

In the meantime though, we’ll have to work it out the hard way. I’ve found that the most important factor in cramming is the removal of anything that could possible serve as a distraction.

When you have a truly obscene amount of studying to do, anything looks fun. Things that are already fun become irresistible. I can remember many instances when I (or I guess past me) said things such as, “Wow, I have a big-ass paper due tomorrow. I think I’ll roast a chicken and maybe make some yummy spinach. Then I can play ‘Goldeneye.'”

Once, when no other diversion was available, I washed a load of dishes rather than study for an organic chem test. Not one of my prouder moments, I must admit.

The best place to avoid distraction is in the bathroom. There’s no computer to check your e-mail, no music, no snacks. Just you and your books. No one in there is going to want to chit-chat, at least not for long.

So grab a stall somewhere on campus and get to work. And for Pete’s sake, spend a week watching James Bond movies early in the semester.

Either that or kill the programming guy at TBS. When you’re standing in front of the judge, you can always say “it wasn’t really me that did it your honor … “

Elton Wong is a junior in biology from Ames.