Why is it that all students, given weeks and months to prepare an essay or assignment, wait until the day before, the night before, even hours before the deadline? It seems to be an unspoken rule and inherent, mandatory compulsion. Students will spend time doing anything they can to avoid doing work and then panic and hyperventilate the day the assignment is due in. There is no better evidence I can offer than to confess that even now, as I type these words, I am approaching the deadline for 6,000 words of final assessments, due in tomorrow, and I’m only half finished. I’m powerless and simply cannot finish that work until I only have an hour left. This has been the case for every single piece of work I’ve completed this year, and I’m not alone. In this age of technological advancement, the Facebook Generation post status messages leading up to the deadlines of their work, informing their friends of their constantly updating word count or the fact that they haven’t even begun yet, effecting a form of communal atmosphere where classmates feel as though there are working alongside their colleagues. The sense of unity no doubt helps calm and encourage the desperate student and reassures that one is not alone. However, the time spent updating Facebook statuses could obviously be better spent completing the work.
The essay questions and assignment information are all provided at the very beginning of the course, meaning that effectively students have everything they need to complete all the assignments in the first week. Obviously this defeats the object and would negate the content of the course, but it does nevertheless illustrate the point that there is no reason to wait until a day before the deadline, there is ample time to prepare the work in advance. So why?
Is it deficit of time? This does understandably factor into the equation, as there are so many assignments due and so much reading to get through, that it is often difficult to get ahead and often one is merely keeping one’s head above water from one day to the next. This does however apply to the main body of the course, not the assignments. In my experience, students spend vast amounts of time socialising and flirting with alcohol, drugs and each other, and immense periods of time quite literally doing nothing, why then are they unable to complete work in advance? Speaking from very current experience (ie. while I’m typing this), it’s a psychological block. It’s the same principle as your parents telling you ‘don’t touch the iron, it’ll burn you’ and then eagerly waiting for the first opportunity to touch it, just to find out. When we are enforced to comply with something and denied the freedom to form our own judgement, we rebel by doing the opposite. The reason we touch the iron is because we are told not to, despite knowing full well for ourselves that we will inevitably be burnt. Similarly, because the deadlines and workload are enforced, we feel an overwhelming urge to rebel and therefore feel the need to decide for ourselves when we complete the work.
We know perfectly well that sensibly speaking we should begin the work well in advance, prepare it thoroughly and give ourselves plenty of time to complete it, but something in us, the rebel in us, feels compelled to deviate from protocol and decide for ourselves that we shan’t start the work until the date and time that we chose. Even though the brain advises against it, the heart demands that we assert our right to make the decision ourselves, the proverbial ‘cutting one’s nose off to spite one’s face’, doing it ‘just because’.
This is understandable. After twelve years of school and all the regimented discipline, rules and education with little or no freedom whatsoever granted from parents, teachers and the Government, we are suddenly handed on a golden platter the opportunity to decide something for ourselves, the first opportunity in our lives to rebel while remaining within the rules. It is a delicious and irresistible prospect. Why should we do the work when the university tells us we should? We can spend our time watching Jeremy Kyle and do the work in under an hour on the deadline date. It’s our choice to make, our right.
Our time as students has always been traditionally and inherently entwined with acts of rebellion and assertions of independence, whether it be political activism or staying in bed until three in the afternoon. It is the first time in our lives when we are truly independent and adult, allowed freedom and decisions. Unlike school, if we don’t attend a lecture, nothing happens. We don’t get detention and our parents aren’t informed. We have the freedom to make that decision, we decide for ourselves. Thus, the eternal state of studenthood is mythically linked with rebellion and anarchy.
So, is the reason for leaving work until the last minute so profound and dramatic as innate rebellion and a need for independence? Or is it so simplistic as laziness and preferring to drink until we fall over? Is there even a reason for it? Well, there must be, given that every student I’ve met acknowledges and practices this mystical and unwritten law. There must be some reason, or it wouldn’t be as innate and inevitable as it evidently is.
My conclusion is that I don’t know. I wish I did. I wish I knew why I was typing these words rather than completing my enormous piece of work, which is a very important final assessment, 50% of my course mark, and due in tomorrow, and which I haven’t even begun. It is impossible to answer but undeniable nonetheless. Students are powerless to this built-in inability to complete work in advance. As a good friend has just said; so it always has been, so it always will be. That’s it.