Just because ‘First Year’ doesn’t count, does it mean it doesn’t matter?
Even at Cambridge: uni is for life lessons, not just exam results
If you're a First Year working like a deranged chimpanzee, there's a massive likelihood you probably need to take a chill pill. But would I say First Year doesn't matter? 100% no.
First Year we often remind ourselves 'does not matter' as a coping mechanism, a blasé way of letting those exam nerves retreat to the back of our brains. But really, it's the ultimate dry slope. The ultimate stepping stone in your Cambridge experience. The journey, the discovery into who you are, who your mates are and *without sounding too deep*, the tough truths of life.
Procrastination has always been my vice but First Year exam season has shown me how I can channel this to be massively productive in other areas of my life. Kickstarting various creative projects? Tick. Tidying my room whenever I get a tinge of boredom? Tick (trust me this one is an ultimate wonder for anyone who knows me, as it will be messy again in less than 24 hours). Choosing to walk to and from my college, Girton, to wile away as much time as possible? Go ever-improving thighs, go that beaut Vitamin D I'm getting from the sun and tick, tick, tick.
Meanwhile, during this revision period, it is a true David Attenborough experience seeing everyone going into survival mode. It is now that you find out who your true friends are and the good, the bad and the ugly of humankind. I wobble around in grief and sorrow, thinking of my impending doom when I'll 'fail' (which, let's be real here, we're at Cambridge so any 'academic failure' relative to failure in the outside world is laughable). However, for my every complaint, my college husband cheers me on with his motivational energy and ability to enjoy studying. Is he for real?! I guess this is the fate I have to both rejoice and suffer in marrying a NatSci.
Some (i.e a very large proportion) are finally exposed as liars (did you really think I'd believe that you've 'basically done no work' when you get a First in a mock?!). Others I exploit to prolong my procrastination. I knock on a mate's door and find him sipping tea watching Bake Off rather than working. What a subversive, a revolutionary, in this Cambridge intensity. Such a great man.
Here's a home truth: seeing First Year as 'not mattering' is simply a reflection of the outside world, where the only accolades and creds that are key are the ones you can put down on your LinkedIn.
But what about that street cred you gain in First Year that you won't have time to cultivate in later years? That's true character building. And what about those all-nighters you pull where you learn not only about time management, but critically how life is full of pointless tasks, like having to do supo essays that are more than double the length of what you will write in an exam.
First Year allows you to take in all the unhealthy competition that festers around you and revel in rebelling against it. It allows you to become an Oscar winning actor, perfecting the art of beaming a smile when someone informs you that they've been working slavishly for 10 hours that day, whilst you choose then to retreat to your room to join the trashy TV shows and bags of crisps that await you.
It basically gives you the ultimate survival toolkit. That is, knowing what works for you revision-wise (or how little you can get away with: quality not quantity!), who you should surround yourself with during those revision periods and also adopting a more cool and calm attitude in the ridiculous pressure cooker Cambridge can be. It's all part of the evolutionary process. A process that will enable you to deal with Cambridge exams far better than your spotty Sixth Form self, such that by Finals you can reflect on how far you've come.
First Year 'not mattering' on paper is PRECISELY why it matters. So embrace it, whatever result you get. You'll now have life experience to add to your CV and a healthier mindset as well.
all images are the author's own