Prelims are a complete and utter waste of time

Finalists look away now

Cambridge cambridge students Cambridge University College prelims Student Students Tab the tab university

In case it’s not obvious from my abundant free time and occasional sprinkling of pretentious, I-looked-this-up-in-a-thesaurus adjectives, I study English.

Which means I sat my prelims at the beginning of this term. Second and third years told me ‘prelim term is the best!’ Yet, as I sit in the depressing UL at 8 o’ clock this evening glossing Cymbeline, an ugly seed of doubt has been planted in my already-frazzled, not-even-week-four mind. Prelims are a complete and utter waste of time.

The reading room A.K.A my second home.

Let’s do a Marty McFly and jump back in time to my DOS meeting at the end of term, where I was asked if I thought ‘Cambridge was the right place for you?’ I was threatened with college action. All because I got a borderline 2i. Absolutely shameful.

After mass hysteria, relentless stress and what felt like a mountain of flashcards later, I’m sitting in my DOS meeting at the beginning of Easter term. I’m asked how I feel about my exam later that day. Through stressed-induced tiredness I manage to mumble, eyelids struggling to stay open, that I felt prepared: I worked hard, after all. To my dismay, I’m then told that prelims are, in fact, optional and that I needn’t have done much work for them: ‘you just need to put your name on the sheet of paper to pass’ she says through a stifled chuckle.

Except this sudden volte face is not that funny, especially when you’ve been told completely juxtaposing statements about your attitude. So, I’m meant to take our seemingly-pointless weekly essays seriously, but not my exams; my second- and third-year exams seriously, but just not my first year. This approach is confusing, and really not great for instilling a consistent, and more importantly healthy, approach to work.

And, if they’re not to be taken seriously, what is the point of putting us through prelims in the first place? Surely first year exams are meant to keep track of our ‘progress’ (or in my case deterioration) from the start of university? Yet, if – as my DOS told me – no one does any work for them, they’re not giving an accurate representation of how well we are actually doing. We’re seen to be underperforming when actually, given more work, we’d do just fine.

‘Just a spot of light bedtime reading’ said no one English student in the history of Cambridge ever.

Furthermore, we don’t really get an Easter holiday. There’s no denying that Cambridge terms are vile: by week 8 we walk round pallid-skinned from being stuck in a library all day and having not haven eaten a vegetable since half way through week 3. All you want to do is have some of your parent’s homemade cooking and binge watch Netflix on the sofa. Not if you’re a prelimmer whose exams start before term. No, we have to battle on, and therefore come back unrested and unenthusiastic before term has even started.

But once they’re done, ‘prelim term’ is the best, right? Actually, it’s not. I had delusions of sitting on the sun-soaked grass, alternating between casually flicking through a Shakespeare comedy and playing croquet. The reality couldn’t be further from the truth. That’s because our essays, supervisions and classes continue until the very last day of term; long after all of the exams have finished. It’s all good and well Grudgebridge posts saying we should ‘all go out an enjoy the sun’, but when you have to read 5 Shakespeare plays a week, that’s just not going to happen.

Hmmm, I get the intent but not sure my DOS would agree…

I see why Prelims exist: we need the term free to be taught. Yet, they result in us stressing over exams that don’t actually count for anything, and this needs to change.

But, of course, Cambridge’s attitude is stuck in the year it was founded, so that’s never going to happen.