It’s time to accept the 24-hour exam is an abomination that ought to be abolished
And you thought scientists had it hard
If this is the first time you've ever heard of the monstrous ordeal known as the '24 hour exam' then all I can say is: lucky you.
For years history students have been forced to undergo this ritual torture at the University of Bristol. It involves writing either one 2000 word essay or two 1000 word essays in the space of, you've guessed it, 24 hours. You receive a list of questions at 12 noon and have until the same time the next day to get your answer in on Blackboard.
Now you might be thinking "24 hours to write 2000 words? That doesn't seem so hard". Well you'd be wrong. We can all garble out 2000 words on something like postmodernism or the many, many flaws of Macaulay and the Whig theorists. An extra four or five references, split the hyphenated words in two, chuck phrases such as "problematic discourse" about like an arsonist with petrol and boom there you go. Exam textbook 101.
But the problem with this exam is that it's not really an exam at all. It's open book; it's one where you're allowed to cannibalise practice essays (that you probably never actually did). It combines all the stresses of an exam with all the expectations of an essay; all the joys of an all nighter without the sweet sense of accomplishment that comes from handing in a normal exam paper.
Whereas normally you get to hand the wretched exam script in and have done with it, in the 24 hour exam it sits on your laptop screen defiantly, taunting you with your many glib generalisations and crass spelling mistakes that miraculously appear just as you've clicked the 'submit' button. The books you've purloined lie around, a monument to failure, the half eaten tuna sandwich in the corner a physical testament to your intellectual deterioration.
The actual process of course is a nightmare. For a start, 24 hours can be a deceptively long time, long enough to fast track your way through the 7 stages of grief with ease. First comes shock- "Is that it? A whole day to explain about the major trends of the long nineteenth century? I could do that in my sleep!"- followed by denial- "That can't be IT, can it?" Procrastination takes up the first six hours, then planning the next six as your mood goes from pain to anger.
Suddenly you're halfway through the exam and you've merely written the introduction and a SAVAGE take down of Hobsbawm for your third paragraph. It's midnight and so begins the bargaining stage- "If I sleep for 4 hours now that leaves 8 to write the remaining 1500 words, easy". The pressure builds as you hit The Wall. Sleep is futile, with dreams dominated by thoughts of the longue durée; you lie there twitching for 20 minutes before continuing your exposition on how Mao was actuallly pretty woke.
So wracked with anguish was one coursemate in first year that he sought release and artistic inspiration in the grimy nirvana that was Bunker nightclub #RIP. Returning home replenished at 4am, he produced a work which in the giddy Jaegerbomb soaked heat of the moment was thought to resemble AJP Taylor or EH Carr, a work to hold the field and shatter the stifling confines of a moribund historiographical landscape. Sadly a 2:2 punctured his fantasy, as did the acidic examiner comment about his repetition of the word "the" three times in a row.
As dawn breaks, so does your spirit. Depression engulfs you like a tsunami as you plunder your lecture notes from some nugget of gold for that elusive fourth paragraph. A few inebriated insights from your drunken housemate mixes with suspect arguments from a long debunked history books to give you a brilliantly original/factually incorrect Hot Take™ on ecclesiastical life in the Victorian era.
The end is now in sight; the final stage of grief is upon you. You accept your essay is terrible but pray they consider it "fresh" "authentic" or even "provocative". The final hour is ticking away and your eyes can barely be held open much longer. You scan it half heartedly for final proof reading and bang a couple of extra few books in on the bibliography in a vain attempt to bolster your academic credentials. Finally, reluctantly, with 20 seconds to go on your computer clock, you submit it and collapse onto your bed as the sweet numbing power of sleep overtakes you.
The 24 hour exam is an absolute abomination. It doesn't test your academic skills, merely your endurance ones. It's neither fish nor fowl; not a way to measure essay crafting capabilities nor memory recollection under time pressure. Frankly it's an appalling way of testing Bristol students and the sooner it is abolished, the better.