College Finals Test Endurance

May 06, 1994|By Thomas W. Waldron | Thomas W. Waldron,Sun Staff Writer

Deep in the bowels of the Milton S. Eisenhower Library, Johns Hopkins University freshman Atif Mahmud crams silently.

With calculus problems scattered around his cubicle, he's working on another 16-hour day in Level D -- as in the dungeon, known across campus as the place for serious studying.

He hasn't shaved in three days and, despite a good-natured smile and a steady diet of coffee and Vivarin, he is, well, a little droopy.

"Dressing, shaving, things like that, combing your hair isn't so important these days," says Mr. Mahmud, an 18-year-old from Mobile, Ala.

So it goes as college students make the high-stress transition from classes to final exams. In the next two weeks, every college in the area will go through its own version.

Goucher College, which began finals Monday, the earliest of any area school, has been as quiet as a tomb.

"This is not going to be a big week for fun," Goucher senior Eric Gelman was saying one day this week. After an all-nighter, he's off to grab a two-hour, late-afternoon nap before resuming work.

Jennifer Lewis, a senior from Ruxton, says her roughest stretch was a 24-hour -- Monday and Tuesday in which she wrote two papers, finishing a 25-pager only 15 minutes before sitting down for a two-hour exam.

"This weekend was just hellacious," she says, taking a break before her final exam last night. "All I can say is, thank God for computers and spell-check and all that."

Nowhere is the pressure greater than at Hopkins, where exams in many courses count for nearly all of the semester's grades.

"I have to do really well in my finals," Mr. Mahmud says of the three exams he faces. "I want to get at least a 3.5. The

competition is so tough."

For some students, the three-day reading period that concluded yesterday is a time for round-the-clock studying, without those pesky classes for distractions.

At Hopkins, there's a library open 24 hours. Known as the Hut, the Hutzler Undergraduate Library has soaring ceilings and 19 spacious, stained-glass windows. At 4:30 one morning this week, 39 students -- most of them awake -- were there, according to a head-count kept by the lone worker on duty.

This time of year, David Haselwood, a junior premedical student from Sacramento, Calif., checks into the Hut every night, sneaking in large quantities of Mountain Dew, which he says has more caffeine than Coke.

"You know exactly how much caffeine you need and you can stagger it," he says. "It's kind of scary."

Hopkins tried to counter the tension Monday with a "relaxation fair," featuring free massages for students and a play area complete with children's toys. One student lay on the floor experimenting with a plastic Slinky. Another student manipulated various Play-Doh extrusion devices.

"For the past few days, I've been doing nothing but studying," says freshman Stephanie Galloway, emerging from a quick jumping session in an inflated bubble set up in front of Levering Hall for the day.

The brothers of Phi Kappa Psi fraternity were using the reading period to recover from Monday night, when the fraternity held its semi-formal dance at the Belvedere Hotel.

By Tuesday at 3 p.m., several of the members were still a little sluggish, sprawled in the dark back room of the fraternity house north of campus. They already had sat through back-to-back episodes of "Charlie's Angels" and "CHiPs" and were catching a rebroadcast of an indoor soccer game.

Five feet from the blaring television, Reece Cochran, a sophomore from North Carolina, thumbed through some notes for a test that night in a seminar -- one of the exams that some professors sneak into the reading period, to the dismay of students. "I think I was up till about 4," he says.

Adam Haeberle, a sophomore biology major from Westchester County, N.Y., is using the reading period to catch up on a few things he's missed, since he hasn't been to class "in about nine weeks."

"I guess I'm a little more lackadaisical, with occasional bursts as almost a serious student," he says. The rigors of Hopkins have given him a "classic case of burnout," he says. "The summer helps. Next semester I'll be back again, probably going to all my classes."

But even the full-time serious students, such as Mr. Mahmud, have their limits. "Before an exam," he says, "I try to sleep at least, at least, four hours.

"You try to cram in as much information as you can," he says, shaking his head. "After the final, you kind of forget everything except for the most interesting stuff."

Like many Hopkins seniors, Ethan Bauman, 21, has opted to write papers instead of taking finals. "The exams seem like more of a ritual," says the Californian.

So instead, he must finish two papers in the next few days -- one about a Chinese political figure and another about environmental pressures on the Brazilian rain forest.

But mainly he is looking ahead. So far, he has had little luck finding a job on Capitol Hill, but he has another option, thanks to an invitation from a friend. "I'm thinking about starting a backpacking business in Hawaii," he says.

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