The trials and tribulations of January exam season


The local Tesco is all out of Red Bull, strawberry laces and instant coffee. There’s a queue at the library help desk (this has never happened), and Facebook is nearing breakdown with a spike of activity. Welcome, exam season.

For these special two weeks of the year, any attention previously paid to personal appearance is swiftly replaced with bloodshot eyes, unwashed hair and two-day-old outfits. Needless to say, gone is any opposite-sex attention, your social life dissolves and as you prepare for long nights at your laptop, your onesie becomes your new best friend.

At most universities (or maybe it’s just at Leeds?), fools use the exam period as an excuse to sport sleepwear on campus - usually teamed with a hat and flip-flops, despite the fact that, yes, these are January exams. Whether the intention is to save time, or it's for practicality or comfort, I don’t care. The point is this: PJs cease being acceptable as soon as you’re off your doorstep. And as for the flip-flops and the hat... well they should have been left on your gap year.

Browsing the talent in the library, it seems sunglasses have emerged as the accessory of choice, disguising darkening under-eye bags, while messy topknots are swelling to relentless proportions with the addition of the odd Stabilo fascinator or Uniball accessory.

Habits are changing too. Ultimately as a form of procrastination or perhaps the stress is just pushing them to the edge, people are finally opting for the pork scratchings in the vending machine - a trip that is squeezed between returning from four-hour lunch breaks and nipping out for half-hour smoke breaks.

Cigarettes are another barefaced form of academic avoidance. Come exam time they’re the typical student’s answer to everything: stress, avoidance, relief and escapism. As soon as the exam timetable is published, smoking seems to become cool again.

I’ve never seen a person run from their desk so fast as when a fellow smoker asks if they’re 'going out' yet. Just passing the library on a day like today, you’d be fooled for thinking there was some sort of juvenile school disco going on with the amount of smoke and awkward commotion, but no. Passing through the temporary haze into an empty library full of reserved computer screens, you’re soon to discover it’s just that golden time again: the third cigarette of the afternoon. While January might be prosperous for student livers - that'd be 'January sobes' - lungs are taking a beating with newfangled chain addictions. You want to encourage more people to quit? Easy, just eliminate exams.   

That isn’t the only effect on our health, though. So much for January detoxes, the library is awash with two-litre bottles of Coke and sugary pick ‘n’ mix, whilst the bin overflows with strewn packets of Pro Plus and empty cans of Red Bull. It’s never our intention to be the one that lets this happen to them but every year, without fail, it does. My New Year’s resolution was to not rely on caffeine yet here I am, two deadlines to go and three coffees down in the library. Alas, there’s always 2014.

Then, you’ve got Facebook. Or Twitter. Even LinkedIn. Who knew the professional social network was such a hub of entertainment? Apparently so, at the expense of revision at least. There is always some who’ve taken drastic measures to stay focused in the library, instructing friends, flatmates, anybody to change and withhold their Facebook password. Clever, you might think, until said character offers up an over-active Twitter feed instead - before clutching at straws and reactivating their Bebo account. Such is the strain of we in digital generation with Google books and e-journals and endless streams of PowerPoint presentations, the mere flick of a tab can take us away from mundane evaluation reports in to a world of excitement, revelation or at least, another drunken photo from a perfect strangers’ escapade. Anything to avoid Microsoft Word. 

That’s it, back to work now. Can someone fetch me another Espresso?