LETTER : Oxford must ease pressure on students

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Sir: As a final year undergraduate in French at Exeter college, Oxford, I'd like to offer some thoughts on what depresses me most as next year's summer exams begin to loom. Your article on Sarah Napuk, whom I knew all too fleetingly, addresses many issues but ultimately offers far too blurred a picture. I'm afraid that the city of mist and Morse may soak up rather too easily the vocabulary of "tragic wastes" and slip away unchanged.

In Sarah's subject, history, and in my own, the degree that you receive after three years is based almost entirely on two weeks of examinations. You might have thought this a little strange in an institution that is supposed to groom the next generation of researchers, where a course-work component would seem more appropriate a test.

Yet unlike in virtually every other university in the land, course work is minimal, optional and in no way recommended. Instead, you live in dread of that last frantic fortnight which has nothing whatsoever to do with careful, thorough argument and everything to do with brash verbal charlatanism. Any remaining confidence in the system finally ebbs away when you hear how your scripts are marked.

One fellow, a leading English critic, recently decided a borderline case by declaring in a markers' meeting: "This boy has a beautiful mind." Knowing that your future depends on this silliness is not easy, especially if you are female (the percentages repeatedly favour male candidates) and if expectations are high.