The Awkward Guide

In every situation in life, there's always a way to make a tit of yourself

Unexpected Ways Exams are Quite Unpleasant

Well, seeing as for the past few weeks the most exciting occurrences in my life have been the occasions when I get to actually leave the flat to go and sit an exam, I have very little else to write about except exams. For those of you also sitting exams, I do apologise as you are no doubt sick of studying for, talking about, and generally just thinking about exams. But it was either this or that weird dream I had the other night involving primary school and lots of spaghetti so, you know, you should probably count yourselves lucky really.

It doesn’t take a genius  to work out all the usual reasons why exams aren’t most people’s idea of a fun-filled afternoon – it’s not rocket science (unless of course you’re studying astrophysics in which case that’s probably exactly what it is). I have, however, discovered some additional unpleasantness that comes slightly more from left-field.

1. You find out all of the quite extraordinary but completely unhelpful things you have managed somehow to remember. You may be staring at a question knowing full well exactly what page of notes the useful information was written on. You can remember what album you were listening to when you wrote them. You can remember exactly what that page of notes looked like. You can remember that the postman interrupted you half-way through writing those notes to deliver a parcel for your flatmate. You can even remember what colour pen those notes were written in. In fact, the only thing that you can’t remember is what the notes actually said. And unfortunately for  you, that’s the only thing that would be of any use whatsoever.

2. Unusual blood flow issues. This one only really applies to the longer exams, anything around the 3 hour mark or longer, which are superhuman feats of stamina and concentration in themselves. There comes a point about 2 and a quarter hours in when you realise that all the blood which was formerly circulating the grey matter in your brain has now pooled rather concerningly in your bum. And frankly your bottom can be as magnificent as it likes, I’m pretty sure it can’t write an essay on the welfare state (although if yours can I would very much like to make your acquaintance).

The unpleasantness stemming from this particular problem is two-fold. Firstly you realise that blood in your brain is actually quite important for helping you to do things like think and maintain fine motor controls, without which you have a hard enough time not looking like a patient in a persistent vegetative state, nevermind writing down something vaguely intelligent.  Secondly, what little concentration you manage to hang onto in this state will be periodically interrupted by mounting fears of developing a deep vein thrombosis. And if you’re going to develop a fatal blood clot then really you’d want it to happen on a long-haul flight to some exciting destination like Miami or French Polynesia, rather than sitting in a gym hall that smells of sports equipment and stress.

3. Invigilators. I’m sure the only criteria by which the University of Edinburgh selects its exam inviligators are being optimally distracting and over the age of about ninety. It’s tempting when sitting an ancient history exam to lean over and ask them for a few pointers because, by the look of some of them, they were reaching their mid-teens by the time Rome fell.

But don’t worry if you’re not being sufficiently distracted from your exam paper by wondering whether or not the one nearest to you is about to have a stroke, they have plenty of ways and means. It’s almost as if they have to attend a “How to Irritate the People Sitting the Exam” masterclass before they are accepted. If they’re not noisily eating boiled sweets or repeatedly blowing their noses on decidedly grubby-looking handkerchiefs, then they are pacing the room with the squeaky shoes they bought out of a beige catalogue.

4. Other people. Not just any people though, most people are quietly getting on with staring at the clock or wondering whether that invigilator is a man or a woman. But there is a small minority who spoil it for the rest of us. Yes, I know, it’s not as if without them an exam would be several hours of unmitigated joy, but all things are relative. What makes it worse is that you are almost guaranteed to have accidentally chosen the seat next to them.

You know who they are. The sneezers. The people who ask for extra paper after only twenty minutes. The people who cough loudly. The people who attempt to cough quietly and end up sounding like a small horse. The people who drink water from a really noisy bottle. The people who write like their trying to gauge their way through the desk. The people who write too quickly and leave you with shocking inferiority complexes. The people who have 5 million and 7 pens laid out on the desk in case one runs out. Ok, so maybe not a small minority then.

To be honest, with all of that going on it’s amazing we walk out of there with any marks at all.


3 comments on “Unexpected Ways Exams are Quite Unpleasant

  1. Megan Madill

    I can’t believe how true all this is. I think my main pet peeve with invigilators though, is the ‘chief’ who gets to make all the announcements and who always seems to think he missed his calling as a town crier or the loudspeaker operative in a hospital or something. I’m always distracted by the way he tries to make his voice as graceful and perfect as possible as he announces the final-15-minute mark: take it easy dude, you’re not up for an Academy Award.


    • alotlikejen

      Haha I couldn’t agree more! I always enjoy the way they explain loudly and at length where the fire exits are whilst standing directly under a luminous green sign that says “Fire Exit”.

      Last year one chief invigilator accidentally told us there were five minutes remaining instead of fifteen, and the whole room suffered temporary heart failure!


      • Megan Madill

        He probably couldn’t take the stress of the spotlight. The glamorous life of a chief invigilator isn’t for the faint of heart.


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This entry was posted on 11/05/2011 by in Everything Else and tagged , , , , , , , , , .

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