Tuesday, 22 April 2008

Exams and all

Lots of blogs, or rather their lovely authors, are caught up in the joy that is exams, or assessments. (As an aside why do they totally change the lingo for the BVC? Exams become assessments, tutorials are small group sessions or SGSs, ditto lectures...does a rose by any other not involve exactly the same amount of preparation/boredom...?).

Reading these, particularly Swiss Tony and Android (and indeed the devotedly absent for revision, Legal Lass!), has had me thinking about my examination experiences. I say it's had me thinking, but breaking out in cold sweats and tossing and turning through the night would be more apt.

My experiences have, as I imagine is common, been a mixed bag. I am by nature, more of an 'exam' person than an 'essay' person for two reasons. I have issues streamlining all the craziness and confusion in my head onto paper when I have what seems like vast swathes of time ahead of me. In an exam there's only so much time for loopiness to spill out on the 'copie'. Secondly, I'm a bit of a lazy bugger so urgent cramming at the end of the year much more suits my style than working continuously all year.

However, until last year I've always found that I did better when I didn't really care for the subject much. If I found it interesting, I tended to ignore the basics and go for those flighty, pretty, interesting peripheral areas of interest. Case in point, my first year at uni I studied Constitutional and Administrative law. Now, I do heart the Public law. Grand themes, ideas, philosophy, history, and above all you can legitimately be totally cynical about government and power. I remember reading lots of things, that weren't at all on the reading list (I may have lost my reading lists quite early on anyway, organisation never a strong point niver) and trotted it all out joyfully in the exam. And as for my dissertation, I planned to wow my examiner with a thoughtful redaction of a new theory of constitutional law.

Only two problems with this. The stuff I wrote in the exam was obviously completely irrelevant and ignored what the question was actually after. As for the essay...well it seems dear old Kelsen might have gotten there first, and in significantly better style. Apparently a Virgina Woolf stylee stream of consciousness was not what the professors at my uni were looking for.

Fast forward to the third year, (skipping over the general disaster that was my second year where I managed to miss all the exams for medical reasons and had the joy of waiting all summer to sit them in September- not an experience to be recommended).
Now, I had a dissertation on human rights, and a module in International Law. I heart the human rights and the UN, and all things to do with how people should be nice to each other, and high flighty ideas about statehood. Ringing any bells?

I didn't pay much attention to the reading list, and followed my interests, getting quite into the subjects. I may have actually *gasps of shock and awe* enjoyed a few moments of my third year as a result. But don't tell anyone.

So fast forward again to the examination, and in an experience frighteningly similar to the first year, the exam was actually...ok. It verged on enjoyable. My ideas flowed, and I couldn't write fast enough. I had an argument in response to each question, and I thought I was able to use my wider reading to good use.

I leave the exam room, chatting with others (always a bad idea). 15 minutes later I realise several things. First, there are a lot of people in tears. There is talk of complaints to the examiners that subjects covered in the exam were not represented by the syllabus, or indeed any published materials. Which makes it difficult for a poor undergraduate. Secondly, people were talking about things in questions that I had TOTALLY missed, and I had seen completely different issues in the problem question. Thirdly, and most stomach-lurchingly, that was exactly what had happened in my first year exam.

So you can assume I was a little bit worried come results day. My first year enthusiasm and interest in Public law resulted in that being my lowest mark of my degree. Amazingly, and I still think to this day that it was a typo, I did rather well in the international law exam. In fact higher than I had ever done on an exam, or in any assessed essay.

So what do I take from this? A couple of things. First, that it's always a bad idea to do a postmortem of the exam with other people because it only makes you feel bad. Second, that you never know how an exam really went (ditto interviews) unless it's something like you left half way through. Finally, I think I actually might have learned something on my degree if I could write well enough to get my ideas across this time!

What I haven't learned however is how not to break down into a complete panic crazed, sniveling wreck the night before an exam. Or for the entire two months of revision period/exams. The Boy (I often meet in bars) will attest to the many phone calls at all times of day and night that ran along the lines of:

'I can't possibly do the exam I can't I will fail I don't know anything I haven't done any work it's so awful I wish I had worked harder why didn't I work harder Oh My God my whole future lies in the balance and I didn't do any work and now I only have myself to blame because I will go in and I won't know anything and I won't be able to answer anything and it'll be awful and I'll I won't get my degree and then I won't get a job and then I will have to work in a shop for ever and that will make me depressed and I'll get sacked because I hate working in retail and I won't be very good at it because it won't be interesting and then I'll get fat and I'll be unemployed and have no money or self respect because I'm too lazy and I'll have to live at home for ever and my parents will be so upset that I'm a failure and it's my fault I didn't work harder but now it's too late because I can't learn EU in 3 hours and my life is over because waaaaaaa'

That's the abridged version. Clarity of thought was not aided by the mountains of caffeine, lack of sleep, exercise, daylight, and failure to consume anything that wasn't made primarily out of chocolate, cheese, or biscuit. I'm surprised Boy is still around.

Oh dear. I hope everyone else has some better coping strategies!


Lost London Law Student said...

I am currently punishing myself for not doing any work yesterday, and stayed up til about 5 watching videos on youtube and episodes of family guy. So here I am with no sleep punishing myself to study admin law!

Like the fact that you prefer to cram then to continuously work all year, sounds like my style too!

Swiss Tony said...

Mel, I can so relate to your phone call conversation!

It is so difficult to know how to approach exams, especially when you know that having done them you will probably never ever use the information again in your life.

I almost feel inspired to blog myself, although I doubt I could match your phone call!


Mel said...

Hey Swizz,

So true. It's a pointless, but crucial exercise-argh! And I never think the actual marks matter, but how you feel about them?

Frankly, I think any cathartic method to get through it all is valid. Even family/boyfriend bashing - although that's best avoided!


Oh yes. I seem to recall catching up on the entire 10 seasons of South Park, the first 2/3 seasons of House, continuing episodes of Grey's Anatomy, Desperate Housewives, and Lost. Scrubs, Rab C Nesbitt and indeed ANYTHING that was not actually going to help me finish my degree.

And of course they all finished when my exams finished and I actually had time to watch tv. And now that I have no exams to study for, I have no desire to watch tv. Procrastination, anyone?! A friend on the LPC decided to darn all his socks while revising.

(I don't know if I could have watched loads of family guy in a row though- the jokes are too random!)

I think you can't punish yourself too much, you're allowed the odd day of being bad. But if it's everyday then you need to kick yourself into gear!

Anonymous said...

EXCELLENT post Mel - Everything you say makes perfect sense to the law student teetering permanently on the edge of a Nervous Breakdown !
Exams are an Absolute SWINE - bieng more of an essay girl, myself, I am of the opinion that such HORRORS should be instantaneously binned in favour of continuous assessment ( which would have the advantage of making rhe lives of exceptionally disagreeable tutors complete hell)
That said, I must admit to having a cram-at-the-last-minute approach to exams, purely because I totally HATE them, though I actually enjoyed my finals ( except for trusts, and that was only because it was , compared to all else, relatively badly taught by an old bag who has since gone on to plague LPC students at another university, God help the poor souls) - partularly International Law and Intellectual Property.
Like ST, I totally relate to your phone conversation - though at least you didnt wonder if a broken arm would be a very nice thing to have as part of your stream of consciousness!!
(PS:Do you get Kelsen?!? I wish I did!!!)

Mel said...

Thanks Minx!

Teetering indeed, I nearly left the sanity train behind at points!

I did something like continuous assessment when abroad, it's not my cup of tea I'm afraid! Although this makes me worry about the 'continuous assessment' of working life- but I suppose then it will be real life stuff, not abstract nonsence?

There was one guy on my course who had bitten his thumb the night before an exam, in such a way that if the exam went really badly, he could just sort of bite it a bit more in the exam and blood would gush out, ruining his paper and presumably excusing him from it?! Drastic measures. He now works for the Security services, which is a bit worrying.

(Kelsen- I don't really get him, but when I studied jurisprudence later on someone referred to him and summed up what it was that 'Kelsen said' and I thought 'hang on, that's what I was trying to say all those years ago but completely failed to articulate!')

Anonymous said...

Honestly, the lengths people will go to in order to avoid Exams, eh? Did your chum employ his tactic of giving the appearence of bleeding to death for his art By ACTUALLY chewing off the remainder of his thumb?!
While on the subject of exam HORROR, here's a cautonary tale from my local seat of learning (you may have heard it!)
Law Student sits exams right well enough, confident she will get the necessary classification to launch a career as a Barrister; she obtains a Desmond , as opposed to her hoped for Atilla, promptly breaks in to the department, holds up a cleaner at GUNPOINT in order to obtain keys to the exam office, and changes her classification. She's subsequently arrested and charged with posession of a firearm, fraud and theft; the day before she's due to answer the charges in court, she takes herself off to a quiet local beauty spot and kills herself, not realising that a desmond is a perfectly adequate qualification with regard to a career as a barrister..... How very sad.
I was conned into the study of Jurisprudence in my first year and absolutely didn't get ANY of it!! You at least, can relate to the silly old P-ositivist!!

Mel said...

I don't think he did, no!

Blimey, Minx that's a bit more than a cautionary tale, that's horrible! Did that really happen?! Where did she get hold of a gun?! I'm obviously not well-connected enough.

Positivism rules, I always thought old Dworkin was a con-artist..

Anonymous said...

Alas, Mel, the tale of the suicidal law student is not an urban myth - I wish it were! Here's a link, if you're interested:


She used her father's shotgun to kill herself and a fake one to hold up the cleaner.

I always thought of Dworkin as a Pseudo-Positivist - but what ever he is, even HE is better than Finnis, don't you think?!?

Mel said...

Gosh, that's an awful story. I mean I'm pretty keen on being a barrister, but as a way to have a full and happy career and life- and I'm pretty sure I can have one even if the bar doesn't work it.

Not great press for that particular uni. Tres triste.

I don't know, I think Dworkin has some pretty lowdown tactics- he never really justifies his position positively, but relies on saying 'these are the objections you will raise but those are wrong, and so you can't prove me wrong and so if you can't prove me wrong I must be right'. But most people seem to like what he says, and he's considered a bit of a living ledge at my alma mater.

Swiss Tony said...

LM, following the story about the gun, I am bidding on an ex Desert Storm Tank on ebay complete with machine gun and missile launcher, just in case i need to break into uni and change my marks.

It will be available for hire to other law students, providing you are not going to compete with me.

I have my eyes on an aircraft carrier too just in case the Pupillage committee need a little persuasion.


Anonymous said...

Hi Mel,

Its an awful story isnt it, a lesson to us all not to allow ambition to rule us all with a rod of iron. Who knows what drives some people, eh?
I must confess to not bieng a great FAN of Dworkin,( though as I say he's more attractive when compared to Finnis) not least because of his criticisms of Hart ( Not that I am a SCREAMING positivist, of course, its just that positivism seems to make more sense than,say, natural law; Realism, while appealing, is too fundementally flawed in my eyes)

Hi Tone,
Buying a Tank is all very well, but lacks a certain subtlety - where, for example would you park it? ( other than on top of the Head of Departments Merc??)Think too, of the Tax/MOT/Insurance and Envionmental implications! Personally, I would just go for the Rocket Launcher, if I were you!
Again, with respect to Pupillage Committes, where would you park an Aircraft Carrier? If you go for pupillage in London, what about the congestion charge?!?!

Swiss Tony said...

LM, I can see that all my worries about not being as clever as what the others are is ill placed.

If you are driving a tank, you can park where you like. If you don't have an MOT or insurance, who is going to seize the vehicle and crush it?

Environmental impact doesn't concern me. Everyone complains about how cold it is, and then moan when global warming raised the temperature a bit. Some people are never satisfied, so I will probably leave the engine running all the time just to do my bit for the scorching summer.

Congestion charge? I will probably flatten any cameras I see, and if red Ken wants to take me on let him try.

The aircraft carrier will park up nicely on the Thames within range of the necessary chambers. I admit that doing a three point turn may not be easy, but hey, it comes with 24 Harrier Jumpjets, so I feel confident that they will clear other boats out of the way.


Mel said...

And here's me thinking I'd just have to flirt my way to the top.

I've clearly got the wrong idea altogether! I'm sure North Korea will help with brute force, they seem to support everyone else (if you believe George Bush...)

Anonymous said...

Learned Pupillage Committee: "Blimey,Tone, you have considered every eventuality, including the possibility of an all out scrap with 'Red/These Days Faintly Pink' Ken, which makes you such IDEAL pupil material that even Nicolas De-Twerpy Brown will quiver in his boots.
When can you start!?!?"

Mel, do the North Koreans provide pupillage funding in addition to armed threats?!

Mel said...

No, but I'm sure the other side of the Axis of Evil, Iran can help. They're big on women in law, right?!

Oh dear.

Anonymous said...

Are they?!?!?!WOW - now theres something you DON'T find out every day!!!
(sacrasm is here not the lowest form of wit, I'm afraid)

Android said...

I loved Land Law at uni, and I loved revising for it. However, I only got a low 2:1 for it in the end... Probably for the same reasons you mentioned in your post. You just get carried away!

Mel said...

Dude, a low 2.1 was a good result for me!

But I totally know what you mean. :)