My first post-secondary final exam season has begun.
I like to consider myself a very effective studier. Although the fact that I am writing this post (when I should be doing more productive stuff to benefit my GPA) probably doesn’t represent this side of me, I wholly believe in the powers of focus. Today I sat down at 1:30 and banged out 800 words on why Anne Phillips’ approach to democracy is better than Robert Dahl’s. Then I spent another hour condensing 6 weeks of lecture notes into a list of key terms. Then another hour writing 2 theses for my history final and learning how to cite in Chicago style. And I did all of this without the help of any study drugs.
In high school I never had any experiences with study drugs. If people in my high school did use them, it was very low-key or generally not talked about. Imagine my shock and fascination when, come university, I am constantly seeing the exchange of study drugs occurring in common rooms, dorm rooms, and classrooms alike.
Adderall, Ritalin, Ephedrine, Vyvanse and others.
All of these are drugs normally prescribed for patients who suffer from ADHD or sleep disorders, or who require stimulants. Maybe this sounds like the average college student to you, except that abusing these kinds of drugs if you don’t actually need them comes at a cost.
Personally I have never, and never plan on using study drugs. This is for 3 main reasons:
1. Academic integrity
2. As much as my mother (shoutout to my mom) refuses to acknowledge it, I am a very independent person and the last thing I want is to feel dependent on something. I’ve met kids who, at the beginning of the year had never tried Adderall in their lives, and now take them for every test/lab/paper/exam they take. Not my thing.
3. I would much rather spend my money on other things (ie food).
Why do kids take study drugs in the first place? Apparently, they work. I’ve seen people not show up to any of their classes, then the night before a big test, pop a bunch of Adderall, cram for the test, and come back with a near perfect score. I honestly can’t tell you myself if it works or not because I’ve never tried any, but ask people who have, and they will tell you how much they live for study drugs. The most common consensus I’ve heard regarding the topic is that it helps you to focus and makes you love doing your work. And this is where things get problematic.
When I was in grade 10, I learned an extremely valuable lesson. My guidance counsellor (shoutout to my guidance counsellor) told me that the problem with education today is that it places too much emphasis on marks, and not enough on learning. “If you study for the purpose of getting a good mark, you may get a good mark, but you’ll probably end up forgetting everything about the subject once the final is over. But if you study something you’re interested in, and really invest yourself in it, then the marks will come as a result”.
When I was in grade 11, I took a grade 12 class about World Issues, that I ended up taking a liking to and doing well in. The next year, all my friends took the same class. Sometimes they would come up and ask my questions about the course, and I would usually be able to tell them what I remembered from last year. On one of these occasions I had a classmate say to me “Wow Maya, I knew you were pretty book smart, but I never knew that you actually retained the information so well!”
I was generally puzzled by this statement. If retaining information isn’t the point of education, then what is?
Today, my school’s “Spotted at the Library” Facebook page made a post saying “Pain is temporary. But GPA is forever”. Unless laws have been changed to require tombstones to now list the GPA of the deceased, this statement is not just flawed on its own, but also perfectly represents the flawed ideology of students today as they perceive education.
According to the Center on Young Adult Health and Development | University of Maryland School of Public Health, 31% of students used performance-enhancing study drugs at some point during their post-secondary career. That is more than the amount of student athletes who used performance-enhancing steroids during their post-secondary athletic career. Now this discrepancy is probably due to the fact that no one is going to catch and/or penalize you for taking study drugs…institutions simply don’t have the money or resources (and also do not want to publicly acknowledge the fact that they cannot trust their students). But this points to a bigger problem revolving around the idea of enhancing performance- we have made out education to be a competition.
Yes, society has Darwinistic tendencies and this is unavoidable. But the students I have met that want to learn something for the sake of learning rather than the sake of their GPA are quickly becoming an endangered species. Educational competition has reduced post-secondary students to become cogs in a machine who come out of school with drug-induced marks but without actual knowledge. Some university programs will rank students based on their marks or mark all of their classes on a curve, even for first years who are still trying to figure out what their whole deal with university is. This has led students to avoid group studying, and even sometimes to knowingly sabotage other students and give them the wrong answers so that they can do better in the long run. To paraphrase Thomas Henry Huxley, humans have evolved a morality and the ability to cooperate because it suits our survival. However we are starting to lose this sense of cooperation, something that is apparent through multiple examples of current events. While competition is beneficial in some aspects, I personally feel that it’s a shame that we are growing out of a society and isolating ourselves as individuals trying to one-up each other. And seeing that the foundation of this is being laid in educational institutions with study drug-enhanced marks, I don’t even know if I can grow to trust those who have gone through prestigious post-graduate training, seeing as I don’t know how much of their knowledge is real or has actually been attained.
In the end, while I believe that study drugs do shed light on a bigger ethical problem in today’s society, and will not be taking them myself, I have also learned not to be an asshole about people’s choices. So whatever methods you may have to be in top shape this exam season, whether it be Adderall, Red Bull, study playlists, warm beverages, living at the library, or procrastinating (as I am doing right now), I wish you the best of luck. Happy studies!