Prelims’ pressures and pains

Student Life

Exam season is well and truly coming. The sun has begun occasionally appearing over Port Meadow, finalists have disappeared into the bowels of their rooms, and the first pictures of ecstatically trashed students have begun to appear on our Facebook feeds.

Following on the tail of these picture-postcards of the Oxford summer comes a highly nervous figure clutching a pile of books and fiddling with sub-fusc which they haven’t worn since Matriculation. Ladies and gentlemen, meet the Exam Season Fresher.

They’ve been talking about how nervous they are about Prelims for at least seven weeks, but it hasn’t spurred them on enough to actually make them do any work. The prospect of cranking out essays for three hours is just about something they can cope with, having survived through two rounds of collections, but the idea of these being marked – of them counting – is terrifying.

You can feel the change of atmosphere in first-year accommodation already. The end of term doesn’t just mark another holiday, it means exams. For most students, the last set of exams they took had a lot riding on them: a university place, future job prospects, CV fodder.

Freshers, here’s a piece of news for you.

Prelims aren’t the same.

This isn’t school any more. What you get at the end of this summer really isn’t going to have any relevance in a year or two’s time, despite the carnations and gowns and trashing and all of the rest of the ceremony. Your tutors are going to want you to do as well as you can. Obviously, you are too, but apart from maybe a few employers looking for interns, if your marks are lower than you hoped, it’s not going make a massive impact on your life, or your degree at all.

Talking to your friends about it probably isn’t helping either. Living in a college environment, stress spreads amazingly amongst Freshers, and between you, you end up just winding everything out of proportion. Suddenly you’re all terrified of what’s going to happen in five to seven weeks time in that exam room, even though your friends at other unis, where the first year exams count, seem much more chilled.

So, before it all gets too much, take a deep breath and step away from everything for a minute.

What’s the worst that’s really going to happen following the exams? If you’ve been really, truly struggling to keep up with work – through illness, stress, not understanding, or anything else – then your tutors should have already picked it up. Hard as it is, the constant pressure of deadlines and having face-to-face contact with tutors means that your work is being monitored all the time, and that you have a person on the other side of a desk or email to ask for help if it’s all getting too much. For the majority of students, we might feel all the time like we’re failing, but, actually, you’re probably doing ok. And you know what? In prelims, you’ll probably do ok too.

Trinity term definitely feels different, and nobody’s disputing that. Alongside the sun, punting and Pimms, exams have suddenly returned into your lives, and it’s scary. But at the end of the day, they’re just another way of judging where you are with your work, and some kind of indication of where your degree might be headed if you keep going in the same direction.

Work for your prelims. Try your best, and revise hard. At the same time, though, remember to keep things in perspective, as with most things in Oxford. Caught up in the famous bubble of academia and stress, serious exams jump out as the next obvious thing to worry about. At the end of the day, they don’t really matter.