Art of dealing with exam agony

Originally published in Gulf News “Off the Cuff” on 26th August 2013. Late upload… sorry guys

Gladly, my exam papers wren't quite so blank !

Gladly, my exam papers wren’t quite so blank ! 🙂

There are some moments in life when you feel an overwhelming sense of relief. In particular, the relief felt after you finish your last exam is something special.

As I exited the examination hall after being done with my finals at last (smirking as I walked past the invigilators who had looked so intimidating only hours earlier) all I could think was: “I am a free human being again! It’s over!”

I relate the experience to the culmination of a long and demanding pregnancy, at the end of which the baby, which had hitherto been a happy and active resident of your ever-increasing belly, finally decides to make a move. It’s another matter that raising the child itself is another, even tougher exam, but I suppose you get the gist.

The weeks after the exam — when one is waiting for the results — are pure agony. Sometimes, the results are more distressing than the waiting period, whilst sometimes the grades one gets are a big relief.

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For me, Maths was consistently a leading cause of pain (calculus, my teacher and the thick textbook were all beyond my comprehension), whilst subjects such as English language, literature and Urdu made my school life look somewhat respectable.

I was in awe of my more able peers who were completely disappointed with their results: “Can you believe I got 91 per cent in Maths? There’s no way I lost 9 per cent! There has to be a problem with this!”

Statements such as this would come from those scholarly souls who would have, in a most frenzied air, claimed right before the Economics exam that “I studied the Macro chapters only twice! I read all the others three times, hopefully we won’t get a question on macro!”

This statement, said to someone like myself, who had barely gone through the book not too long ago, over strong, black coffee, was hardly comforting.

I’m recounting all this because I recently went back to school after a long break, and took my teacher training exams, and attempted to do a Bachelors as well.

Weeks before the exams I was filled with a strange anxiety. The stress was so great that after every 30 minutes of studying I would require roughly 25 minutes of entertainment to compose myself and stave off a nervous breakdown. That Sigmund Freud’s notorious stages of infantile sexuality were punctuated with an episode of Friends was not merely coincidence, but a careful plan, which I am sad to admit, did not work particularly well.

I suppose I should pass, (hopefully!), but I am sure I could have done a better job if Chandler, Ross and Co hadn’t eaten into my limited time available for studying. I told my father about my unique studying plan after the papers and I found him chuckling with delight because apparently, I had carried on the family tradition. Pray what, Dad, is this family tradition? I asked.

It turns out that dad was to appear for his Chartered Accountancy finals. The past four years had been enjoyed thoroughly by a young man with an insatiable appetite for fun, who was busy discovering the vibrant city of London and beyond. Studying, predictably enough, was rather low in his list of priorities.

Right before the finals he enrolled for an exclusive crammer course during which students were directed to take classes for the subjects they were weak in. Looking into his syllabi, he realised he needed to revise every single subject.

To give himself some peace of mind at such a nerve-wracking juncture in life, he indulged himself by smoking heavily, reading a multitude of Agatha Christie mysteries and taking whatever classes he could. And finally when the crammer course was done, he decided he needed to “let the dust settle down” (Dad, was it the lessons or was it Agatha Christie?) and for three days straight, he watched movies!

Then he took his exams and surprising managed to clear the finals in his first attempt. He wasn’t the only one wide-eyed. On the day after the results, he received a letter from one of his professors. It read:

“Dear Mr Rehman,

In the list of candidates that have successfully passed the examination there appears to be a name very similar to yours. Could it possibly be you?”

Dad wrote back with a response that was characteristically tongue-in-cheek and somewhat audacious.

I’ll sign off with a little prayer that I will clear my exams too, content in the knowledge that my study habits are but a genetic hand-me-down, that will, hopefully not pass on to my girls!


2 thoughts on “Art of dealing with exam agony

  1. Good Post Mehmudah! I guess all genius people study according to the pattern you and your Dad followed, whether it is a family tradition or not! I am glad for you that you are finally done with your exams 🙂

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