As finals week approaches students might start turning to Adderall-assisted cramming and energy-drink-fueled all nighters, but study experts have other suggestions for acing finals that do not involve legal problems or crash and burn side effects.

Study expert
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College expert Cal Newport, author of “How to Win at College,” and the Study Hacks blog, also has some advice on how students can prepare for finals effectively.

“Never ‘study.’ That word is too vague,” Newport said in an e-mail. “For each class, lay out a specific set of specific actions, that, when completed, means you are done.”

He added that while following the specific actions students should avoid “passive review” such as “silently reading your notes or text book to yourself, or recopying notes. This is a slow way to learn. Instead spend all of your time with active review; actually explaining concepts out loud, in complete sentences, without looking at your notes.”

“Once you have these specific action steps, consisting mainly of active review, start assigning the steps to specific blocks of free time. This is your study schedule. Follow it,” Newport said.

For additional resources on how to prepare for finals, as well as tips on healthy ways to deal with the stress, students can visit Learning Services, Dominick said.

Learning Services has an extensive media library with resources, she added. Students can also schedule an appointment with an academic counselor for an individuaalized plan. For additional information students can go to the Learning Services website at and to request the PLAE worksheet students should e-mail Learning Services is located in Student Union Building I. They can be reached by phone at 703-993-2999.

Adderall is a prescription medication for people with ADHD, said Mary Ann Sprouse, director of George Mason University’s Office of Alcohol, Drug and Health Education.

Some students who do not have a prescription use Adderall because they believe it helps them focus and stay alert to study for finals. Sprouse said her office sees more incidents of illegal Adderall use around finals time.

“They say it is very effective,” said Krystal Moore, a freshman communication major who admits to never having used the drug, but says she knows people who have. “They say it will help you completely concentrate in doing one task,” Moore said.

But Sprouse said student’s who do not have ADHD might be misjudging Adderall’s effect.

“For people who don’t have problems focusing or problems with attention, you are really going to primarily get just the stimulant effect of being awake,” Sprouse said.

Besides it being illegal to take Adderall without a prescription, Sprouse said it also violates Mason judicial code and has a high risk of being habit-forming.

“I just can’t say enough how dangerous it is to take somebody else’s medication,” Sprouse said. “There have been cases of seizures from taking Adderall, because your heart rate gets so high, and heart problems and it’s just scary; you have no idea how that’s going to act in your body.”

Although finals are scheduled for next week, students can still formulate a plan to ace finals without the legal repercussions of Adderall or the jittery effects of energy drinks.

Vicki Dominick who works at Learning Services, a section of Counseling and Psychological Services, said that students can implement the Preplanning, Listing, Activating and Evaluating strategy now to prepare for finals.

Learning Services has a worksheet available in their office or by e-mail to get students started in implementing the strategy, Dominick said.
Preplanning means that students should find out everything they can about their upcoming commitments and map them out in a calendar, Dominick said. That includes everything from papers, to tests, to work obligations, date nights and mealtimes, she said. Once that is all captured on a calendar, students can move to the next step.

Listing means that students will write down a plan of specific things they will do to study and fulfill their obligations outlined in the preplanning stage, Dominick said. She said in this stage students have to be specific about their behavior. Instead of saying they will “study” they have to list the action, such as “write out flash cards.” Dominick said students should also specify a time and a place for the action, which will make it more likely that they will follow through. The worksheet available at Learning Services specifies that in this stage for every action students should figure out: “What will I do,” “When and Where,” “For How Long,” “Why” and “Did I do it.” Once that is completed, students can move on to the next step.

Activating means students will actually follow the plan, Dominick said. The PLAE worksheet says student’s should also “monitor whether the plan is being followed. If not, determine what is interfering and decide on changes that should be made.” The final step of the PLAE strategy is about feedback.

Evaluating means assessing why, or why not, students followed the plan, Dominick said.