Diary of a Fresher: 'If I do OK in exams, I'll be allowed to carry on acting'

Click to follow
The Independent Online

And so it begins. If I can pull these exams off, a year's worth of slightly lacklustre academic performance will, I hope, be forgiven.

A 2.1 will force a certain professor who didn't want me here in the first place to concede defeat; I'll be allowed to continue acting next year; my parents won't disown me. It's unfortunate, then, that I spent my first two terms making a lot of notes while memorising precisely nothing, and now I'm paying the price. I've done my best with my revision, but there's just been too much to learn.

Back in school, exams were essentially an exercise in regurgitation: if you knew the textbook and mark scheme, you were safe. This time, there isn't a textbook and to get a top mark, ticking all the right boxes is no longer enough – you have to be "creative". It's sad, but the school system I've been through – from SATs to GCSEs to A-levels – has taught me how to churn out answers that aren't necessarily good, interesting or original, but fit the piece of paper the examiner's got in front of him or her. I've hated the system all my life, and it's ironic that now, finally bereft of a tick-box mark scheme, I feel a little lost.

My exam hall is small and old-fashioned, with folding benches that attack your legs as they fall into position. I'm a little nauseous, and feeling the effects of rising at 5:30am for some last-minute cramming. I sit at my desk and nurse my injured calves while I await the invigilator's instruction to fill in our details on our answer booklets. In exams, you never do anything unless you're asked. Initiative doesn't exist. But, as 9am approaches, no such instruction is forthcoming. Some people around me start to fill in their details anyway. Just to be sure the invigilators aren't about to disqualify everyone apart from me, I leave it a few minutes before gingerly following suit.

Although all the invigilators and professors sitting at the front are wearing academic gowns, one is wearing shorts and flip-flops underneath. An invigilator asks us to hand in any mobiles we've brought in by accident. Slightly sheepishly, the professor in shorts hands in his, and everyone laughs. Then we're off.

I need to answer three questions from a choice of a dozen, and scanning the list, I'm relieved to find three I can at least have a go at. For one of them though, the only reason I know anything about it is because my director of studies made me focus on an interesting yet extremely niche topic while I should have probably been revising more generally. I suspect this was partly because of a conference on the subject he would shortly be attending in Strasbourg, but whatever his motivation, I am beyond grateful.

Three hellish hours later, we're free to go. I haven't a clue what I've just written, and my right hand feels dead. We're allowed to take our question papers with us, and I'm not even surprised when everyone starts talking before we're out the door. A girl once took her answer booklet out by accident as well, and got as far as Sainsbury's before she realised. I'm careful not to make the same mistake.

Finally outside, I have to dodge jets of champagne sprayed by some waiting third years at their friends who presumably have just finished their last exam. Good for them, but with 12 hours of exam time left, being soaked with Cava is not my idea of fun.

Comments