A.J's Top Exam Tips (#4)


I'm going to tell you a story that took place just a couple of weeks ago during my exam, which I think best illustrates the point I'm trying to make. 

I set the scene in a cold sports hall with rows upon rows of exam desks at the back, with a neat paper on each. The heater, as always is put-put-puttering and the glaring lights are humming at a pitch that has already become a dull and constant ring. At least thirty girls are present - yours truly included, taking different exams at different stages, including my A2 Classics Epic Literature, the fourth of a billion A2 Maths exams and a bunch of GCSE tests. I'm ~happily~ (yes, that's right, when I know and enjoy my subject, I enjoy exams. Feel free to burn the freak...) writing away in the final 20 minutes, my eyes firmly and alternately set on the clock and my paper (and occasionally a teacher breezing past who thinks I don't know they're playing human Pac-Man.)

Suddenly, there's a commotion, and by commotion I mean slight, out-of-place noise. It's a shuffling, and something like a sigh. I think nothing of it, concentrating on my work. Then a chair scrapes, and we all flinch, looking for a moment but continuing on. Then, there's a horrible wet sound and then a round of disgusted gasps. I actually pay attention and look up, shocked to see one poor girl doubled over in her seat, and below her, vomit.


To follow, we were evacuated whilst everything was cleaned up, the girl was sent home, and we returned to a sterilised hall ten minutes later. What I'm trying to illustrate here is that this girl wasn't ill, as we learnt later. She was in fine health (sort of), no need for a doctor's note, and there was only one reason she'd thrown up; stress.

I'll make this clear: I can't really tolerate slackers - I can't identify with the lifestyle - and I certainly advocate taking exams seriously because, let's face it, they can take you on many different paths depending on the outcome. GCSE is all about figuring out what you might like to be, A-Level is about getting the grades to do it. BUT (big but...and I can't deny), I sat outside the exam hall thinking to myself, as well as how bad I felt for that Year 11 girl, how stupid it was to get herself into that state.

First of all, I'll say that I don't count crying and puking on the same level. Everybody cries about school, it's too stressful and animated an environment not to inflict some sort of harm on you, and exam season gives it to you in full force. That's a kind of physical change I understand, I've done it myself, not a lot (because I'm quite an internal person, admission), but I know that sort of overwhelming sensation when your body is working out of sync with your mind and everything's jumbled up and it's actually terrifying sometimes because you've lost control of yourself.

But to make yourself ill thinking about an exam, I don't see the sense in it. As I've said, treat your exams as important because they are, but there's a limit. At the end of the day, this is what an exam is:

  • It is a set of questions spanning one to three hours after one full - maybe two - years of studying. It is over before you know it, it is a blip in your life, and the universe is not going to explode if you have a bad day. What did my Careers teacher tell me repeatedly this year about what my exams prove? Not that you're an A* genius (though that doesn't hurt) but all it proves to universities is that you can sit an exam. You can think clearly under pressure and remember relevant information - higher education stuff.

Afraid you won't get what you want? Concentrate on the positives (seriously, the negatives will eat you up inside and it is a state that nothing credits being in.) If worst comes to worst, resit, or take a break. Plenty of girls in my year are taking gap years in which to relax/resit/reevaluate, and there's no shame in that. They certainly deserve it, A-Level is deathly. This is my last and most important piece of advice. I think it's important that it be this and that it come from me, because I never had this way of thinking a couple years ago. If I hadn't changed my tune and thought to myself one day "you know what, you are a smart person, and an exam isn't the only evidence you need to show that," I would probably have been the girl who threw up out of stress in the exam. 

I felt like I went into automatic mode for these exams, I wrote constantly even if it was tripe-stream-of-consciousness at times, and pushed back any feelings of doubt and concentrated on the here-and-now. And what did I do when all my exams were finished and I officially finished another stage of my life?

I breathed a sigh of relief, and I moved on.


The End

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