I remember reading ‘The History Boys’ with my A level English Literature class in Year 12 (a kind of rite of passage when you have lived in Sheffield all your life) and finding it somewhat amusing that most of the characters failed to recognise that the Oxbridge destiny they were all working towards was not an end point at all. It was yet another beginning of yet another challenge – one greater than they had ever experienced before.
And yet I appear to have made the same mistake. Here I was thinking that once I had that UCAS confirmation, I had achieved what I had wanted to and that was that. But now here I am preparing for my first ever law exams, a matter of days away. I am quite sure that for me to express my apprehensions about their arrival is the equivalent of a Year 9 crying about summer exams to a Year 13 drowning in Keats quotes and quadratic equations with UCAS ‘something has changed on your application’ emails to top it all off. The memory of an exam with everything riding on it is all too fresh and by association, my mind subconsciously decides that this is the case with everyone I sit…
That ellipsis was a dramatic device to represent the passage of time. I finished my last exam 13 days ago and the 10 days of nothingness before the State of Sheffield project was pure bliss. A theatre trip with my family, a weekend with my boyfriend including cocktails, pizza, and a movie or two, and lots of sleeping. This is my first tip for the exam season: treat yourself when it’s all over. My friend at Edinburgh has post-exam anxiety as bad as my pre-exam nerves and while it is easier said than done to accept that it’s all done and there’s nothing you can do about it until the results come out, it is true and you will regret not living in the moment when you’re back in the revision period next time around.
My second tip is to surround yourself with positive people during this time – ones who are too wrapped up in the happier things in life to think about anything as dull as exams, or a topic as worn as The Past. These are the only people you should bump into before the exam incidentally. My phone is clogged with messages from my parents and sister warning ‘stay away from other law students!’ before the beginning of my exams. Again, this is easier said than done. One thought that helped me through was my mum’s reassurance that first year exams are not on the scale of A levels in that you are aiming to do your best, not to attain specific grades and percentages that are near enough impossible at degree level. So, as I stood outside the Octagon hall I said, mostly to myself but also in front of my friend, “they are not as big as A levels, they are not as big as A levels”. “Well, they kind of are”, I thought the negative voice in my head was saying. But no, it was Carl, injecting me with a surge of apprehension moments before entering the exam hall. Stay away from other students!
Finally, I must emphasise that a certain amount of worry and nerves are healthy and normal, but a debilitating level that has you hyperventilating and sobbing daily is not. Create a support network of positive people and people who are not taking exams and can take a more rational, objective outlook. Some people excel in exams, and some cannot wait for the day when they are over. Both are equally valid ways to feel but either way, exams should not dominate your life.