Whether busy, or preparing to be busy, this week I’ve gone to bed each night feeling like I’ve lived a life in a day. Well, saying “I’ve gone to bed” implies it was a conscious action, when in reality every night saw me recklessly crash onto the mattress, my body bind itself in the duvet, and my head drop cold onto the pillows like a boulder.
It’s been a fulfilling week, and certainly the beginning of the storms which turned out to be more blustery than I had initially forecast. It was exhausting, and at times isolating, but a large part of the job is done. In fact, following the end of this week we have hit another peak, and from now on it can only get easier.
Two economics exams, part-time work, and a dip in the employment pool ensured my active days were packed, while my preparation days were gruesomely empty. I distinguish between the two because on the days without exams, I would be preparing for exams with literally nothing else planned. I then antagonise the latter because these preparation days were long, they were tedious, and for some reason they were even more draining.
Flooding with Work
Monday morning, and we’ve got it all to do. I didn’t need to check my schedule to know this was going to be a busy week. My mind had already been overflowing with constant reminders of which particular aspects within twenty weeks of work I would need to study further for the upcoming economics exams. First though was a more practical problem to address, and it wasn’t just my mind that was overflowing.
Yes, the drain got blocked again. Prior to this week it had been a relatively common occurrence; merely applying bleach on a fortnightly basis remedied the flooding problem. Although it appears my wet-room too was stepping up its game for this week. Despite the belief that the water from my shower would clear overnight, I woke up in the morning to discover a small river had formed, accompanied by a shallow coastline along my carpet. Knowing the wildlife that inhabits Dinwiddy, I slipped on those Speedos and immediately went diving, where thankfully no reefs had yet formed.
This was a real bummer. I thought about it, and hypothesised that it would take less time for my lungs to evolve to live underwater than it would for this water to dry. I then realised however that by going aquatic all of my revision papers would get soggy, so I had to do something. What followed was a good afternoon’s worth of manual labour to mop it all up, followed by five barrels of bleach getting chucked down that drain.
The Calm Chaos
The couple of days spent indoors doing nothing but revision really did rid me of my soul. It consisted of the flashcards and exam plans that I had already been studying for five weeks. I knew I couldn’t take in anymore and I knew I couldn’t learn anymore, because I was ready. That’s what made sitting down to work so hard, and in reality, Monday and Tuesday were days mainly spent wandering around trying to burn away time. This sense of isolation in my room eventually led me to Russell Square Gardens, where instead of running the tortuously short laps, I gazed at the water fountain, and cleared my mind.
In terms of the mental preparation, I knew what exams were like, and I knew I was ready, but why couldn’t I stay calm? There was an undeniably strong feeling of anxiety; at a closer look, it was uncertainty, and I now know why. At the end of the day, exams are exams, but at university the experience of exams is less of a community ordeal. To elaborate, looking back at my school days it was clear that there was a sense of unity and comradeship when we all marched towards the exam hall as a year group to sit the paper we had all spent the year preparing for together. You knew you were part of a larger struggle, and also the greater glory. At university however, I revise alone, prepare alone, and walk the longest of walks towards the exam hall alone. Other than sitting with a few good mates in the waiting room prior, this week I have shared the exam hall with people I have simply shared a lecture hall with for the year. Heck, I didn’t even recognise some of the people sitting the same paper as me.
Although that’s been the recurring theme for the past year at university- you go in and get your job done.
At this point I wanted to get the three-hour sitting under my belt and out the way. It had taken too long to come around. I ensured I was prepared; I packed my bag the night before and set eight alarms just to make sure. Even though I was in bed by 11pm, my overactive mind meant it wasn’t until the early hours of the morning that I would get to sleep. It was then that woefully, and somewhat inevitably, someone decided to set the fire alarm off. It is likely someone left a hob on and fell asleep, because the alarm kept going off and then coming straight back on. Usually after the first clanging of the ears it stays off, and I go back to sleep with the adrenaline surging and my heart bouncing off the walls. I therefore knew that we would all have to evacuate when it kept going off, so I grabbed my keys and sodded out of my room barefoot and in just pyjamas. I was in a livid mood and I wanted everyone to know it. I had a damn exam in the morning.
Despite this, looking back, the whole ordeal was actually one great social gathering. I saw Kibo for the first time in ages, caught Seyu who like me, was also dazed having been asleep, saw Patrik walking around in a bright red dressing gown that made him look like he was ready for a boxing match, and caught that Japanese bloke who used to backchat me in lectures (yes, I can hear you, and understand you!). Realistically however, it would have probably been funnier had it not been on the night of an exam.
Thankfully the next alarm that would wake me up was that of my own, where I then began the process of stumbling around the flat, and spilling coffee over everything in sight, including my exam timetable. Sitting indoors waiting for a good time to leave was not helping my nerves, and so I left early, and faced what was quite a unique journey to the exam hall.
Exiting my flat, I walked against the masses of the morning rush hour as they poured out of Kings Cross, braving each body in sight as I cut through the station, before walking down the spine of St. Pancras, past YouTube, and near the reaches of the canal. It was a path that took me through tunnels, over bridges, and past where my dad works; twenty minutes after I left Dinwiddy I arrived at the London Irish Centre. It was 9am, but other students were already appearing one by one, and I arrived at the exact same time as Tresco. We had a chilled chat when walking in, and sat down to meet Zahrah, where other students were discussing topics and how they were feeling ahead of the exam. It was very relaxing. I felt calmer, and much more content in their company, yet the unpredictability of whatever questions I was about to face was enough to rekindle the anxiety.
Fast forward forty-five minutes and the reception hall was packed. We were then gradually allowed to enter, just after I had been to the toilet and dropped my pens, pencils, and calculator all over the floor. The bloke in the cubicle next to me sounded as if he was dropping his guts out; it was then I knew I wasn’t the only one feeling the nerves.
The exam hall itself was drop-dead fancy, as I said last week it would be better suited to hosting some Sixth Form prom. We sat in polished wooden chairs with red velvet padding, and not one of the tables creaked. Yet I felt uncomfortable. And that was because one invigilator came around hissing at all of us to surrender our calculators, and another stood at the opposite end of the room and shouted all of the instructions in an accent too strong to comprehend. They were antagonising to all of us. As I tuned my hearing from the seat furthest at the back of the room, I just about made out the instruction to write down our candidate numbers, before I then heard the mass rustling of papers, and realised he had just gone and started the entire exam. All of a sudden, the gun had fired for the three-hour sprint.
It isn’t necessary to state all of the details regarding the exam paper. The first section was fine, but the second section was abysmal. All three questions looked as if they contained very little potential for marks, and I was stumped as to how any of them could offer substance for an hour of essay writing. I had little ideas, and little to write. I took a shot in the dark and produced three pages of hopeful analysis, making sure I got something down.
The final section was the complete opposite to what proceeded it, and contained three questions which I felt confident in tackling any of them. For each section however you have to choose just one question, so the issue once again became where could I pull the most marks. I took a risk, and gambled on the question I believe many students would shy away from. It was a risk worth taking, as being a first-year exam, and having already endured a difficult second section, there was certainly a capacity to try something unorthodox.
Still though, I walked out of the exam depleted, and feeling a little low. Twenty weeks of learning was boiled down to two weeks worth of lectures, all spread over three hours. Unfortunately the questions did not go my way, and I feel I missed out on achieving my potential. The walk back was long, and I was more tired than expected. I fell asleep for a couple of hours when I returned home, and it was then it struck me that it was only the first exam.
There was no time to feel down though. I got up myself and sprinted to SOAS and back as part of a threshold run to shrug off the negativity. I was ready for action once more. Preparation for the next exam had already begun.
Getting the Job Done
Thursday night haunted me. I had a dream that I had so little time to prepare for exams, the marathon, and every other task that I failed to complete any of them. A reflection of the stress, a warning to keep it all together.
I spent a large part of Thursday trying to be active; first playing basketball with Paul and the crew, and then later on my own. I noticed I have a really camp hand when throwing the ball.
Friday came, and this time I didn’t dilly-dally around, and just went into that exam room and did the job required. There may have been reason to worry. The lecturer had stated he was only looking for essays with the basic debates, quoting the phrase “I wrote you a long letter because I didn’t have the time to write a short one”. Well, my exam paper wasn’t just a bunch of letters, it was a fourteen-page epic armed with statistics that incorporated decades worth of the literature of developmental economics. Personally, I would feel safer knowing I did a detailed answer rather than a vague one, and so that’s what I did, and I have no regrets. I did the best I knew I could do.
I left the Irish Centre for the final time, and capped off my first year of economics with a much better return walk. The sun had returned, and so had Adam from a considerable few months of being away from the campus. It was great to see him again. We had a good catch up, where once again it was a reminder that the exam ordeal wasn’t a solitary struggle. As for economics, well that’s also a struggle, but one that is unmistakably worthwhile. I am so glad I took the risk and chose it. I will say that now because the chances are I won’t be singing its praises by the time I’m doing calculus for next year’s microeconomics module.
The Working Weekend
The week was far from over, in fact I was still yet to hit the peak of this term’s most busy period.
From Saturday morning I was out from 8am until 1pm in north-east London doing part-time work, and then once I returned I spent the afternoon completing a 12 mile tapering run. I’ll be honest, it did not feel like half the distance of last week, and that was because it took 36 laps around Russell Square Gardens to complete. It was the definition of insanity. However, my fitness levels feel good; I did the run with only one gel midway through, and finished with my lungs and muscles relatively untested. The only uncomfortable aspect was the amount of dust flying around in the air. I didn’t complete a single lap without something prickling and causing massive irritation in my eyes. This before and after photo shows how I went from a fresh-faced, optimistic runner, to a destroyed man who hasn’t slept in days from a crippling gambling addiction.
From then on, the evening consisted of revision, and preparation for an appointment planned for the following morning. This required me to be present at a rather large building that just so happened to be by the Millennium Dome.
Once back indoors, I turned on the F1 just in time for the start to see Hamilton take a close (and strategically fortunate) win over Vettel, and then set about blitzing my room; it’s time to regroup for next week, as once again I face the prospect of two more exams.
The Struggle Continues
It can only get easier from here, as the exams gradually get ticked off the list. After Friday’s exam, I can then finally switch the focus to the marathon. The next few weeks are looking bright, and from Monday I will start another month’s membership at the gym near SOAS. So hopefully next time I update the site I’ll be the size of a skyscraper.
I am definitely exhausted, and definitely feeling the stresses of this period right now. But I am enjoying it, and feel like there is a real sense of purpose through this last month of spring.
Three exams remain until the first year is complete, and two weeks remain until I run my first ever marathon. It’s the climactic finish which I had been hoping for, and while it’ll try to kill me, I’m going to enjoy each painful day, and embrace whatever fate may be waiting around the corner.