My Week: Macbeth, even you never had it this bad

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The Independent Online
Sunday - I am watching a repeat of The Cosby Show. Denise is home from college. She has a handsome naval husband and a NutraSweet, all-American stepdaughter. She is smiling because she has finished her university final exams. I hate Denise. It is deeply insensitive of Channel 4 to broadcast a programme that not only reminds me that I have a week of back-to-back exams looming, but does so via an ecstatic Lisa Bonet. If I didn't have so much revision to do, I'd write in and complain.

Monday - 9:23am. Waiting outside before the start of the first paper, I get talking to a worryingly relaxed-looking fellow student. He is eating a banana in the expectation of its slow-burn carbohydrates kicking in halfway through the second essay. He says: 'Let's face it. If you can't write an exam on Billy Shakespeare after four years at university, you don't deserve a degree.' Only the voice of the invigilator, summoning us to our dooms, prevents me from doing serious damage to his writing hand. As it turns out I can't write an exam on 'Billy' Shakespeare and, in desperation, turn to the notorious Question 15: 'Which play would you recommend to a 10-year-old child and why?' These questions are designed to find out which students know less about Shakespeare than their own grannies. I fall for it hook, line and sinker.

Tuesday - Three down, three to go. On current form I am looking at a career in taxi-driving unless my fortunes turn extremely quickly. The phrase University Final Exams has now entered into the pantheon of all-time-great, three-word spine-chillers, alongside Root Canal Work, Failed Breathalyser Test and Margaret Hilda Thatcher.

After the debacle of the Shakespeare paper my fate has taken on a distinctly Macbeth-like inevitability, not helped by the incessant roadworks outside the exam hall or the knowing winks of one particular invigilator bent on breaking the concentration of his former students. Tomorrow is the General Paper, inviting open-ended three-hour philosophical treatises on dead certs like censorship or post-apartheid South Africa. Relaxed in the knowledge that one can't fail to do well in such an exam, I go over to a friend's flat and end up watching six hours of the Star Wars trilogy.

Wednesday - No censorship. No South Africa. Instead: 'Discuss past and present notions of heroism.' The entire room groans. I argue that Luke Skywalker is the consummate 20th-century icon, an amalgam of every literary hero from Oedipus to Gatsby, with a bit of Flash Gordon and JFK thrown in for good measure. It is my strongest paper so far - an essay worthy of publication in GQ magazine. It is just the sort of student piffle that exam markers summarily execute. For taxi-driver, read fast-food preparation


Thursday - A strange and wonderful thing happens in the middle of the American literature paper. A guy I've never seen before suddenly jumps up out of his seat in front of me and cries out desperately: 'What are these exams, these reports of one three-hour moment in our lives? Do they represent me? Do they represent us?' The man is clearly several sandwiches short of the full picnic, but this is a finals exam, not a volleyball game in Top Gun, and people merely tut or giggle gently. The invigilator escorts him outside briskly and informs us that we can have an extra 15 minutes because of 'this extraordinary disturbance'.

Friday - Light at the end of the tunnel - but it is more like a recently snuffed-out candle than the flaming blowtorch that might have been expected after four years of higher education at Her Majesty's expense. Signs are up around the campus. 'Finished your finals??? Then get pissed here]]]' is one of my favourites. Only TS Eliot stands between me and the Alka-Seltzer.

Saturday - Denise Cosby never felt like this.