Charlie Palmer – How to be a dick in Exam term

CHARLIE PALMER really quite likes Easter term, and he’s sick to death of people who act like it’s the worst thing ever.

Charlie Palmer competitive don't be a dick exam term late column revision scaremongering Trinity Weather

This is my favourite term. I get a range of reactions when I tell people that – most can at least see where I’m coming from, but at the other end of the broad spectrum I’ve even had people think I was winding them up. Cambridge is one of the most stunning places I can imagine spending a summer – what I’ll miss most next year are the glorious afternoons on Trinity backs, and the lull that descends on a still-sunny King’s Parade when the tourists have gone home for the evening.

“Charlie, you fool,” I hear you say, a bit condescendingly, “surely you’re talking about May Week. Have you forgotten about the small matter of those exams that ruin your life for most of the term?” No, I haven’t. I genuinely don’t find exams a massive hindrance to enjoying this term, and I don’t think they have to be.

It’s not that I don’t care about what happens this summer, of course I do, but I deal with exams by making a concerted effort to stay calm and not let them dictate every waking moment of my day – I’ve kept doing my show on Cam FM, I still go to the pub occasionally, I’m writing this column. If you’re someone who’s likely to get stressed about exams and focuses entirely on them, that’s absolutely fair enough. There’s a good chance that’ll work out for you and you’ll do better than I will.


Cambridge is objectively lovely at this time of year, and there’s nothing you can do about it

What I have no time for, though, is the kind of competitive scaremongering that goes on this time every year. In its least harmful form, this manifests itself as lip service to the horrors of exams: you’re supposed to really hate exams, so people compete to see who can talk most often about how bad they are. “Oh my God,” they say to literally everyone they see, “the next month is going to be horrible. I’ve got nothing to look forward to until mid-June.” The other part of this is going on about how fucked you are: “Christ, I’m going to fail – I’ll be lucky to get a 2.2.”

The next level of exam term mind games is reclusiveness. If you really are too stressed to see your friends, I can understand that (even though becoming a hermit is unlikely to help). But when you ask a mate to the pub on a Saturday night in late April and he says “Can we wait until after exams?” you can’t help but feel it’s being done for effect. It’s all part of the great Cambridge competition to be seen to be working harder than everyone else. Of course he’s got a free hour or two in the next month – he’ll spend that much time on Facebook in the library that afternoon. But at least he’s given the impression that he’s too busy.

The next step usually involves deranged working habits. I’m talking about the kind of person who leaves Trinity library at closing time (2a.m.) every night even though she hasn’t done any meaningful work since midnight, and starts popping Pro Plus for concentration three weeks before sitting her first paper. This sort of thing tends to go hand in hand with telling everyone loudly about how you don’t think reading Hamlet twelve times is enough and that you’d planned to do ten hours’ revision yesterday but only managed nine.

Stop it. You’re not helping yourself. You’re just making other people feel inadequate.


Nobody cares

The worst type, though, is the academic intimidator. This dreadful human being deliberately mentions obscure authors you’ve never heard of in conversation, confidently spouts revolutionary views about whatever topic you’re both studying whenever he can, and generally takes any opportunity to start an academic debate with someone he knows he can beat so he can feel good about himself. If you’re worried this is you, desist at once before someone gives you a slap.

Everyone’s a bit worried about exams. That’s fine. But don’t take it out on other people – don’t sound judgingly surprised when I tell you I’m writing a column this term, or that I still have time to do something other than stare at a wall in a library. It doesn’t help you – all it means is that the ridiculous pre-exam hype becomes self-fulfilling as you make all your friends start panicking as well.

So next time you’re about to say “Shit, I’ve still not re-read all my set texts, I’m going to get a third,” think about whether that’s actually true and, if necessary, say something like this:

“I’m a bit behind where I’d like to be, and I’m slightly worried about a couple of papers, but I’ve done an okay amount of revision and I’ll probably be fine.”