Diary of a Fresher: 'Exam time is difficult without parents waiting on you'

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The Independent Online

The spectre of exams utterly dominates this term. Even the weather isn't enough to alleviate the sense of doom. I recall only the briefest period, near the start of term, when life was pleasant. My college, now decked with green ivy, finally looked like the place I saw when I came to the open day here three years ago. Lying on the grass with my friends, casually re-reading my set texts, I felt that I had finally come upon something of the essence of what university was all about. But to my dismay, the feeling barely lasted a week, and not just because it started to rain.

We do have some sense of camaraderie, only slightly spoiled by the fact that, depending on subject, each of us is in a very different position. A few of us had our exams at the very start of this term, allowing the rest of the year to be spent doing normal work. Such people hated and envied the rest of us during the Easter holidays, while in recent weeks, as our exams drew nearer, we learned to hate and envy them in turn.

Exams for each subject are clustered together, so some people have far longer to revise than others, but then have far less chance at uni to enjoy "freedom" once they are done. My exams are earlier than most, and I dislike it intensely. It is nigh on impossible to work hard and stay positive when you know that practically everyone else has a good week longer to revise than you do. The only reason I managed to achieve anything substantial before everyone buckled down collectively a couple weeks before my first exam was because my lovely but possibly over-zealous director of studies forced me to write a sickening quantity of timed revision essays for him. I imagine I'll thank him for it eventually, but for now, my hand just hurts.

Once the final push started, people reacted very differently. Some holed themselves up in their rooms, bulk-buying cereal and peppering the posters they put up in freshers week with multi-coloured Post-it notes, while others unofficially appropriated a particular desk in a library, leaving their notes, clothes, stuffed toys, and yet more Post-it notes there at all hours. Because I didn't reserve a desk soon enough, I have had to adopt the former approach. I haven't taken an exam in two years, and I don't feel like I've found my stride yet. It's surprisingly difficult coping with exams without having two willing parents waiting on you hand and foot. I miss them.

It's a relief my exam results don't affect my eventual degree, providing I pass and therefore don't get chucked out. In stark contrast to most of our experiences at school, though, for a number of us failure is a genuine possibility. With so much of our time during the year spent simply coping with the workload as opposed to, say, actually learning stuff, a lot of people didn't start this term in a good position at all, myself included. Most of us have by now made the mental jump from the frame of mind that dictates anything less than a top grade is in some way a failure to one that says so long as you survive until next year, all is well. For my part, getting chucked out seems unlikely, but my likely 2:2 is still closer to the danger zone than I'd like it to be. Wish me luck.