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The Answer to Finals: Cramming

Short on sleep and buzzed by caffeine, Cal State Fullerton students find last-minute preparation is a test of stamina.

December 17, 1998|LISA RICHARDSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Midnight, and bodies are strewn everywhere.

Felled by statistics formulas and marketing strategies, students flop across chairs, feet in one, heads in another. Those with foresight snuggle beneath sleeping bags.

Others peter out right in the middle of their labors, muttering half-remembered definitions even as their heads plop onto the books beneath them.

It is finals time.

At Cal State Fullerton, as at many universities throughout the nation, students are in a full-throttled race to the semester finish line. Some are prepared, many are panicked.

As it has been for every year since 1976, the Titan Student Union is open 24 hours a day during finals, which last until Friday.

The building is packed. Nests of fast-food boxes, cans and candy wrappers surround the students as the academically desperate turn to the time-honored exam diet for help: coffee and soda, Snickers bars and pizza for a blast of sucrose and fat that will fuel them until winter break.

Hundreds flock to the student union to curl up with books before the massive fire in the Alumni Lounge or to squirrel themselves away for serious cramming in private meeting rooms.

Others, however, take advantage of the only time that bowling lanes and pool tables, both in the student center's basement, are free.

Amid the gentle snores of fallen companions, students rehearse answers to questions that, if only for the next couple of days, are the most important ones in their lives.

"A strike is a compass direction of a line made by the intersection of a flat plane with an incline. Or tilted plane," chanted Dana Chansila, 19, studying geology. "A dip is a vertical angle from a strike."

It is 2 a.m. She has been studying since 11 a.m. the day before. Chansila, a marketing major, is joined by four friends at a table in the hushed upstairs of the student union. Two, however, are asleep. One is head-down on the table. Another, Steve Garcia, 25, snores on the floor beside them.

Across from Chansila, Gedetch Brown, a sophomore from Huntington Beach, studies for a theater final. Mike Orozco of Santa Ana, 18, a freshman and the first in his family to go to college, crams for his first finals.

Doing well is critical. If he doesn't do well on his exams and have a good college transcript, then how can he get into a good graduate school, become a physical therapist and ensure that his 8-year-old sister goes to college too?

"My parents didn't care either way if I went to college," Orozco said. "The guidance counselors urged me to go, so I did."

His future hinges on knowing the right answers to the freshman seminar questions.

College has been a "life experience," he said. Orozco shares a suite with five roommates, cooks for himself--mostly Mexican food--and has moved from a mostly Latino community to one with people of every ethnicity and culture.

For example, Brown is African American and Chansila is Thai. Together the trio pegs away into the early morning.

By 3:30 a.m., Garcia is back at the table studying and Chansila is head-down on her geology book.

Bright-eyed and still going after a full day of studying, Nimmi Sidhu, 23, fortified by a caffeine pill, is cramming statistics with two friends in a meeting room.

The pill is wearing off, however, and she may go find another one. Statistics is dry and difficult. The three muster little enthusiasm for the topic.

Their textbook offers examples of how to use statistics to solve a given problem, but studying it is almost pointless, because they know what lies ahead.

Rather than create one scenario to be solved by one statistical formula, the professor will have fashioned a honeycomb of interlocking problems.

Better to focus on history, where she must memorize everything that's happened everywhere since 1600: The Industrial Revolution and World War II. The Cold War and the Ottoman Empire.

She may or may not get some sleep.

Sanchin Verma, 21, seated next to Sidhu, will definitely take a catnap before going to his 9:30 a.m. exam.

Last year he didn't get any sleep before exams, set out on a road trip as soon as they were over and fell asleep at the wheel. He crashed his car on the highway in West Covina but was unhurt.

Friends made fun of him all year.

"I will never do that again," Verma said.

It would be wrong, however, to give the impression that everyone at the Titan Student Union was sleep deprived and caffeine frazzled.

Senior Joe Boshra, 23, was the picture of cool.

Carefully balancing a cue on his thumb, Boshra eyed his shot, pulled back, sighted it again and sank a ball into a pool table pocket.

"My last final is [Tuesday] in marketing research--I think," Boshra said, laughing.

"I have a very high A in the class so I'm not worried--I figured out that even if I get a zero on the final, I would still get a B."

"Make way for his ego!" warns Gary Nguyen, 22, the junior playing against Boshra.

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