My university experiences were overwhelmingly positive. With two degrees in five years, a dozen volunteer experiences, legions of acquaintances and friends (many of whom I still remain in contact with); to say nothing of the academic experiences themselves. Going to University even set me on the career track within post-secondary education, as I love seeing students experience the timeless conversations, and moments of insight that I too hold fond memories of.
Seeing young students in a state of constant discovery and wonder, I occasionally feel a twinge of envy. The buildup of envious feelings disappears however, with the onset of exams. If there is one experience that I have zero desire to experience again, it was the trial by ordeal that characterized the exam period and the month leading up to it.
After studying and chugging along through midterms and a barrage of research papers, a gauntlet of final exams and research papers awaits students at the end of the term, standing between them and the holidays.
Having gone through exams, I certainly feel stronger having survived the experience with my body and my grades intact. My sanity is another story. I would never repeat the experience however, as the level of sustained stress generated over the month long slogs towards exams is to this day, unlike anything I have ever experienced.
What I found hardest about exams was not the studying itself or the sleepless nights or even the hand-numbing 3 hour sessions that encapsulate exams themselves. The worst part was simply not knowing what was going to be on the exam. That fear of the unknown, which H.P. Lovecraft called the greatest of all fears (I get to put on my stuffy literary cap once in a while) is the worst aspect of exams bar none.
The unknown element of what will be on exams creates an atmosphere of dread and a sense of unlimited work as students study endlessly, trying to absorb as much of the material as possible in the hopes that what they study will match what is on the exams. Of course, you can do a number of things to improve the odds of studying the right materials, beginning with going to class, listening to lectures and reading textbooks. These and the act of writing past tests all teach a number of skills to improve your odds of studying materials that will be on upcoming exams.
At the end of the day though, you can’t know it all and as my first year medieval history professor once said, “you can’t know it all for the exam, so just try to know as much as possible”
With these hardships in mind, I sympathize deeply with students and try to assist them through the experience when I can. Giving out free coffee during exams is only a minor comfort though for students during the exam period. Beneficial as exams may be for personal growth and development, the stress they generate is something I am all too happy to forego.
In closing, all the best to the students on campuses everywhere. In North America at least, the Christmas holidays are nearly here and only a final week awaits.
In the words of Winston Churchill: “If you’re going through hell, KEEP GOING!”