To study or to take a pill?


The end of the first semester. Paper submission. I remember those crazy weeks… The time when your only home is library, when your best friends are books, when you are like Duracell Bunny, is impossible to forget. Joking apart, one can notice the same picture in many universities around the world. In order to pass examination or write excellent paper students spend days and nights cramming for tonnes of lectures, books, or looking for appropriate materials. The workload is so heavy that they resort to coffee, drinks like Red Bull or more recent tendency – so-called smart drugs.

If you watched the movie Limitless, you might be amazed thinking how dramatically one small cognitive-enhancing drug changed main character into the most intelligent person. Now this is no longer a fantasy. To combat their fatigue, to boost their academic performance, to improve their memory students found one decision – modafinil (name of a pill). As far as I know, this is not a case for Kazakhstan, however, in the USA and the UK this problem fuels hot discussions among researchers and educators.  Modafinil’s original prescription is for people with narcolepsy, people who are always asleep. Dr. Barbara J. Sahakian, a professor of clinical neuropsychology at the University of Cambridge School of Clinical Medicine in Cambridge, estimated that 90 percent of modafinil’s use is off-label, meaning that a doctor has prescribed it for other than its official purpose (Sparks, 2012, p. 16). It is quite clear that modafinil’s indications for use, i.e. “a sensation of natural wakefulness for hours at a time, without the jittery buzz and disrupted sleep” (Taylor, 2013), are perfectly suitable for the students who want to be those Duracell Bunnies. It is necessary to mention also that these brain-boosters are easily available on the internet.  Such easy online selling is more likely to flourish ‘smart drug’ tendency among youngsters. Despite youth finds these pills helpful, they should remember that pills have only temporary effect. More important, as every coin has its flip side, ‘marvel pill’ is certainly to have its own. Alas, there is a finite research on the side-effects of smart drugs. Probably, illegal online selling, students’ fear or reluctance to confess or something else impedes research in this direction.

By and large, this question remains more than serious nowadays. In their race for ‘A’ grades, ‘pass’ in the examination, some students use smart drugs to sustain their active condition. As there is no concrete evidence what damage smart pills could bring, researchers and educators continue speculating on this issue. At the end of this post I propose you to enjoy a panel discussion on the topic “Are the drugs the answer to learning languages?

And what do you think about it? Is it normal for students to take cognitive-enhancers during study? Would you try one before exam? Would you take a pill to perfectly know languages?


Sparks, Sarah. (2012, October, 16-17). “Smart pills” promising, problematic. Education Week. Retrieved from

Taylor, Ph. (2013). It’s exam time! Can smart drugs make you smarter at this testing time? [Web log]. Retrieved from

6 thoughts on “To study or to take a pill?

  1. Mariya, thank you!!! it is very useful and interesting information!

    I have never heard about that pills before! Now researchers have achieved great results in medicine. These pills seem like one of the inventions which may change the productivity of the people all over the world, because not only students may use them. Workers also may use pills to raise their productivity.

    All we know that students drink energetic drinks such as Red Bull and other. I am sure they are harmful for human body in big amount, but everybody should control how much they use energetic pills or drinks. What about smart-drugs, before using them you should examine a small portion of it in order to check the reaction. However, I hope, researchers tested pills before selling them.

    Pills may help to make learning process more productive and high quality. At the same time you may use pills to spend more time on learning languages. But again it would be better if just manage time as you need to avoid using smart drugs.

    Thus, it is better to make learning process natural, without any artificial helpers.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Thanks, Maria, for providing such an interesting food for thought! :like:
    Yes, unfortunately, I DO remember those sleepless nights in front of the computer trying to finish the course papers and that was terrible 😦

    As for me, the one and only “drug” that works for me is coffee. During my bachelor studies it helped me a lot: one cup of espresso – and you are the king of productivity. Though, it didn’t go that smoothly when I started to drink it a lot (say, 8-10 cups a day :O) on a regular basis and turned into a full-fledged coffeholic – I began getting used to it and afterwards one cup of coffee made me even more drowsy than I felt before :(. So, I decided to give it up for a month, and after this period I decided to drink not more than 2-3 cups a day, which is a right proportion for making me feel energetic and awake :D.

    Another magic thing which really helps me to stay awake is WI-FI 🙂 Dunno why on earth I can surf the internet without batting an eyelash till 2-3 a:m which is a paradox, since when I do my homeworks, I always want to sleep? 😀

    Maybe, we have to move all our lessons to a facebook/instagram/twitter platform? Then definitely everyone would accomplish them and won’t get that tired 😛 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Mariya, the pill you are talking about is amazing if it really exists! Yeah, I do remember the time from my childhood, when I wanted to ask my brother to hit my head with the history book. I really really imagined how I’d know everything which contained that history book 🙂
    The answer to the question to have such a pill or not, would definitely be “not”! Despite the fact that I am an amateur of energizers and despite the fact that they did help me to stand awake for 40 hours while doing those projects on those crazy days; We all know how such kind of stuff are harmful for our health. For this reason I think we better work ourselves…

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thank you Mariya, for informing us about the existence of such an energetic pill. Personally, I have never come across that term “smart drug” before, and I am happy that it is not the case for Kazakhstani students. I hope nobody will disseminate your post which might be understood as the advertising of these “stimulants” among the population.
    Let’s look at the whole problem from the realistic point of view, stimulants may help a person stay awake and possibly improve his or her mood, but there are no evidence that they improve person’s cognition. A recent research by Smith and Farah in 2011 revealed that there were some improvements on various cognitive tasks; however, findings were mixed with many other similar studies which proved the uselessness/inefficacy or even impairment of these drugs.Overall, I am afraid these stimulants certainly can have the potential for addiction and other side-effects such as blood pressure or anxiety. Accordingly, we should be aware of the risks to health from non-medical use of prescription drugs. Instead, students should learn how to manage their time effectively, prioritize things and spend less time procrastinating.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I also heard about these drugs. However, as I understood they are illegal and might be used only for people with the certain diseases as you mentioned before. A friend of mine who studied in UK told me about her friend: she didn’t sleep for 24 hours preparing for exam, but next day she had 2 more exams. So she illegally bought a pill (as I remeber it costs about 300-400$) and studied the whole night very effectively. She successfully passed all exams…Then she has slept for about 14 hours and …no other side effects were noticed.

    Of course, taking pills that are officially prohibited is not a good decision. But:
    1. If these drugs are allowed for deseased people, then probably 1 pill is not so harmful,at least it will not kill you))
    2. Suffering from low concentration, students don’t get enough sleep for weeks. It is a well-known fact that constant sleep loss is very harmful.

    So I am not really sure what is worse: an unknown, but possible side effect from a strange pill or inevitable harm from a sleep loss.

    P.S.: just realized that if I had a chance to try it during the thesis preparation, I would probably do it…

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Mariya, you has described the situation almost all of us have encountered this winter. We were novices and did not know how to manage the time to meet the deadlines. As for me, I feel extremely stress if I am short of time. To submit papers on time I sacrificed my sleep and rest time. I did not sleep 24 hours to finish my writings. I drank very strong tea (several big cups), ate dark chocolate, took the vitamins boosting the cognitive processes. It did really help. Do you remember when we wrote a paper only within two hours. However, I do not recommend to use such extreme methods. Now I eat Snickers when I now that my “gray matter’ (my brain) should work and do its best. Additionally, I strongly believe that healthy and sufficient sleep is the prerequisite of fruitful learning. Everyone of us has its own magic recipes of working hard. Though, let’s avoid doing it at the expense of our health.


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