As the days started to blur into one, it was rather a shock to open my emails and see a message from our JCR President, welcoming us back for Trinity term.
‘Is that really how long it’s been now?’ I thought first, wondering where all those weeks had gone. My second thought was an altogether less pleasant one. Start of term meant that collections were coming, and not just coming but imminent.
No longer the hazy, distant threat that could be postponed until my sourdough starter had fully matured. They were literally days away.
I wish I could tell you that this realisation sent me into a flurry of panic-induced productivity. Sadly, it did not. The geographical distance between me and Oxford meant that the idea of academic work felt impossibly remote.
And not only that but the world had been plunged into utter chaos – who cared if I understood peptidoglycan biosynthesis when there was a pandemic sweeping the globe?
I tried to justify my apathy to myself by arguing that my collections were open book. Surely, revision was unnecessary if you could have your notes alongside you? Besides, I had a Netflix series to watch, an opera cake to whip up, and a wardrobe to colour-coordinate.
The geographical distance between me and Oxford meant that the idea of academic work felt impossibly remote.
But before I had even finished Tiger King, Friday morning rolled around. I had entirely failed to do any preparation and yet I felt peculiarly calm about the whole thing. I went upstairs, downloaded my exam paper and started to write. To my surprise, it was nothing like as horrific as I had feared.
Don’t get me wrong-a four hour is exam is never going to be an enjoyable experience, but I discovered that there are actually some advantages that come from doing collections at home.
First things first, being able to do it in the comfort and familiarity of your own bedroom is a massive plus. There isn’t the same high-frequency hum of stress and nervous energy that comes from being in a group of people who are all slightly bricking it, even if they are pretending that they aren’t.
You don’t have the distraction of the person next to you coughing, turning pages and scribbling out their answers. Gone is the dread of seeing that someone else has written twice as many pages to answer the same question as you have. When there is no one else around there is no one else to compare yourself to. Ignorance really is bliss.
Of course, this lack of distraction relies on being able to find somewhere you will be largely undisturbed, which is not possible for everyone. Even when I retreated to my room, where I knew I would not be interrupted by my family, the neighbours’ children still decided that that was going to be the day that they had an epic water fight in their garden.
Using our own homes for our exams won’t always be ideal for everyone, but I have personally found that quite a remarkable amount can be ignored if you have a pair of headphones and some seriously heavy-duty rain sounds.
Another advantage that has come from doing collections virtually is the ability to use a laptop. Personally, I have never understood why exams are still handwritten.
We live in a digital world – never again in my life will I write several thousand words at once by hand. My typing is much faster than my writing, my work far easier to edit and not to mention infinitely easier to read for the poor person who has to mark it.
I appreciate that technology does have its drawbacks and if I had been writing my essays on paper there would not have been the added stress that comes from sending in your exam script when your laptop has reached a rather critical 1% battery.
Not to mention the chance that my final essay would make no sense at all because my screen brightness was on so low that I could hardly read what I was doing.
But I’d still take that overspending three-quarters of the exam battling through a muscle cramp that extends all the way from the palm of my hand to the back of my shoulder blade.
Finally, the most important advantage of doing an exam at home: tea. And not just one cup. As long as you don’t mind using up your precious time you can make as many refills as you like. Who can work for four hours straight anyway?
Good things aside, there is one major disadvantage that comes from doing collections on your own. You reach the end of what feels like an intellectual marathon, you are exhausted, and there’s nobody around to enjoy that feeling of accomplishment with you. Nobody to laugh off the rest of your nervous energy with.
No one there to mock the fact you actually spent half of your essay writing ‘naked roll mat’ instead of ‘naked mole rat’. Instead, there’s a rather anticlimactic moment of sending off your exam script, closing your laptop and that being the end of it.
You reach the end of what feels like an intellectual marathon, you are exhausted, and there’s nobody around to enjoy that feeling of accomplishment with you. Nobody to laugh off the rest of your nervous energy with.
So maybe the reason that collections felt remarkably un-awful was that for me it just didn’t feel like an exam at all. Not revising, being home alone with a cup of tea and having my notes open for the duration of it definitely creates a remarkably relaxed atmosphere.
And whilst I’m sure the exam would have gone better if I had actually done some work instead of making yet another loaf of banana bread, what’s done is done. I can’t go back in time to change things and that banana bread was delicious. However, my tutors will unfortunately never get the chance to try my baked goods, leaving them only with the rather haphazard essays I wrote for my collections.
Even if my answers were a bit shambolic, I feel optimistic that they might function as the kick up the arse I need to get motivated for the rest of term.
There is, of course, the risk they will just become another depressing feature of an already very depressing situation, but we have to try to maintain some semblance of a positive attitude. Let’s laugh about our mistakes, learn from them, look at naked mole rat memes, and then finally, hopefully, get some work done.
Books HD by Abhi Sharma