Why exam term is not the apocalypse

WILL POPPLEWELL reckons there’s a lot more to Cambridge life than hiding in your room preparing for exams.

Cambridge Cambridge University Exams London May Week

Seven days until my first exam and what am I doing – past papers? Flashcards? Reading my way through the library? Nope – I’m on the train to London, thrilled to be attending the opening night of Miss Saigon on the West End.

This attitude pretty much characterises how I’ve attempted to approach this term: if I get an opportunity to do something exciting, unique – or just fun – I take it. So I’ve started reviewing shows, I ran for election to a society, and I’ve sharply honed my ability to find the only other person drinking in the college bar (and promptly join them).

Last week I was drinking six out of seven nights – and if we know each other, you’ll picture me pulling faces at any camera in sight, and sending illegible drunk texts, after half a bottle of wine. Several people asked me whether a) I knew it was ‘exam term’, or b) whether I planned on still being here next year. Whilst I wouldn’t have said it, my automatic response to that was “it’s not exam term, it’s Easter term”. Personally, I don’t subscribe to the mentality that this term should be defined by my performance in twelve hours of essay writing (although I suppose my DoS does…).

Popplewell’s exam preparation

Naturally I haven’t refused to work; I don’t want to waste the, arguably unparalleled, academic opportunity that I have here at Cambridge. Rather, I’ve tried to keep things in perspective – replace last term’s lectures with review sessions, and supervision essays with revision essays. For revision topics I’ve chosen subjects that I found interesting, rather than tactical or easy, which makes the revision that I do far more tolerable.

When I’m not working, I try and avoid talking about it. When I’m with my friends we compare stories from ‘last night’, as opposed to how many hours we’ve spent studying today. I like to think that people have noticed my more relaxed approach to term, and that it’s been more reassuring than disconcerting, or aggravating.

Instead of ‘procrastinating’, I try and do something genuinely enjoyable, even if it’s just sitting in the sun watching the world go by; having some fun doesn’t have to carry the negative connotations of procrastination, nor should it make you feel guilty. Recently, myself and some friends have started taking different walks (with ice cream of course), and peeking into the various colleges and different parts of Cambridge. Granted, it sounds pretty dull, but beyond the grandeur of the King’s facade there are 30 other colleges to see – how many of you have taken a look around Selwyn College? It’s stunning!

Why wait for May Week?

Of course, I completely accept that everyone has their own work style, and that many degrees are going to be more time-consuming than my HSPS course. Similarly, come results day, a great many of you will have earned that pride upon receiving a first or 2.1, whilst I fervently pray that I’ve done enough to get a 2.2 – sincerely, well done to you all. All I would suggest is that you consider whether that’s how you want to remember a whole ninth of your (standard undergraduate) degree here at Cambridge, or even an entire third if you do the same each year. This isn’t intended to sound judgemental; many people are intrinsically capable of striking a healthy and effective balance, achieving academically whilst still doing other things. But for the people who are only stressing over, and not enjoying, this term, I would encourage you to take a breather.

So please don’t hate me, you inspiringly motivated NatScis, but do take the time to look out of the window, and maybe take your lecture notes on a sunny stroll to Parker’s Piece. If you’re the adventurous type, maybe even try somewhere as far out as Grantchester! This is obviously a very personalised account of my term, but I think everyone could benefit from taking a little more time to refresh themselves, and take advantage of a university community which hasn’t, in my experience, stopped simply because it’s May.

Is your life exams, exams, exams? Want to tell us about it? Comment below or email [email protected]