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Atoke’s Awkward Banter: To Everyone Who Has Experienced Exam Fever


 on time I think about all the reasons why I wanted to grow up quickly, I wonder if it was worth it. Is the burden of paying rent worth the need to eat two pieces of meat (without Mummy slapping my hand away)? Can I really justify having to make all these grown up life choices because I really didn’t want to have to write another exam?

I wanted to grow up quickly so I’d never write another exam in my life. When I finished my Bar Finals, I was more anxious about having to re-write the exams than the fear of not being called to the Bar.

Exams have always been a source of trauma. I will never not have a fear of them. Exams come with so much anxiety that we even have a name for the physical ailment that comes when the timetable is posted in the notice board. I’ve always had exam fever, even when I was in primary school. With parents who have high expectations and siblings and cousins who constantly aced their exams, the pressure was always on. I knew that I learned fast and assimilated quickly, but when exam approaches my brain suddenly feels empty. It didn’t matter how much I’d studied, once it’s time to do exams, it’s a vacant space in my head.

The exam experience itself is almost as bad as the build up to it. There’s the interchanging heat and cold that you feel; it has nothing to do with the temperature regulation in the room. This fluctuations is from the inside. You know you studied for this exam (or maybe you didn’t) but for some reason, you can’t find what to write. During my A-Level exams, I was very hot while we waited to be seated, so I was very happy when I was close to the AC. Guess who decided to rest her head a little bit when the words on the paper started jumbling together on the paper? Between the heat and cold, it’s a miracle how I passed that exam because that sleep was deep.

Some people say that if you prepare well enough, you won’t have that fear. It is for this reason that some people stay in the library for hours and hours without rest or sleep. But the body isn’t a machine; it needs to rest in order to function properly. So, it’s a race between not enough hours to hit the books and the time you need to hit your bed. When I was in school, I studied for as long as I could tolerate the mosquitoes in the reading room. I didn’t go to the library at night, because honestly, I was scared of walking back to the hostel in the dark. I always understood the need to sleep, but even in the sleep, I’d be terrified of what I could be reading instead of this sleep.

Different people have different ways of preparing for exams.  Some start studying from the beginning of the semester. This is usually advised for people studying for the Bar finals in Nigeria. I did this method, but I don’t know if it worked. I still forgot things when the exam rolled around. Some people like to study for exams in packs – they find bouncing ideas off each other helps.

There’s also some people who stop studying 24 hours to the exam. This is their time to chill and party. This is good for people like my friend Deygji, who’d be out jollofing the day before a big exam. The problem is when their friends who don’t have that same type of study capacity follow them to party. Deygji’s friends can testify to how they learned from this follow follow experience. Not everyone experiences exams the same way, so find your lane and stick to it. Otherwise, you fail Jurisprudence and you’re doing year 5 all over again.

Personally, the higher the stakes of the exam, the more pressure I feel. In secondary school, my anxiety was always heightened when it was promotion exams. What will happen to me if I fail? So while worrying about the fear of what my father would do to me, I’d lose all memory of everything I studied. A-Levels was disastrous because my brother ‘gently’ reminded me of how expensive my prep school had been and what the family could have done with the money. I’d failed it the first time, so the anxiety of the second run nearly killed me. By the time I got to Unilag it was less the fear of parents and more of the fear of being left behind. I did not want to do another year of Akoka!

The fear of exams is so real that I applaud people who write exams that they are not compelled to do. Those who have to do Masters programs that require exams are heroes, but the real super heroes are the people who pay for those expensive exams that are hard. People who use their hands to register and sit for the CFA exams are the real Gs. Not only are those exams expensive, I hear you have to study like you’re about to face the their mortal enemy. Why would anyone suo motu choose to go and write an exam that they don’t have to? Yes, I know it increases your earning capacity and pushes you further into a more exclusive employability bracket… still, WHY?

My friend Muyiwa was studying for his ACCA certification I’d watch him study during lunch breaks, study after work. He was ALWAYS studying. His vacation was spent studying and writing exams. I’m super proud of him because, ladies and gentlemen, it could never be me. I’m grown, why would I subject myself to such trauma? Every once in a while I muse about going back to school, but my fantasies are always limited to non-exam based programs. It’s not like the alternatives are easier; I learned this the hard way during my Masters, when I had to produce a portfolio of work and a dissertation. Please, don’t let anybody deceive you that creative writing is easy. Not in academia, it ain’t.

If I never get higher education at this point, it’s simply because the thought of exams will never not scare the crap out of me.

I asked a few people to share their exam memories with me.

Anne: “They have all gone been buried in a deep place I refuse to revisit

Redd: “Siting in further maths class trying to answer three out of five questions. I was still on the first one and had no clue what I was doing and some muppet was calling for extra sheet

Dapo: “Getting 1% instead of 0%. That one pained me

Ngozi: “The exit exam that I failed, I slipped while examining a patient and managed to knack head for the patients scrotum. The patient screamed. I hit my head against balls coming up

Fola: “only painful one I can remember is falling asleep I was so bored and didn’t read for it, economics. I didn’t pass sha, but it was a mock exam

I think there really needs to be some form of counselling for students before, during and after exams. I don’t think it’s healthy to allow people go into exams with all that anxiety. I remember in law school a few people reportedly had cerebral malaria or as they said then “people went crazy”. There are times when you never quite recover from that trauma. It’s important that schools in Nigeria include counselling for students, to ensure that they’re in the right frame of mind to sit for exams.

In any case, please share some of your exam stories with me. What’s your study style? Do you like exams? (I know there are some people like that!) Do you have exam fever? Do you ask for extra sheet during exam?

Finally, can we talk about those people who do post-exam assessment? We need to gather hand and beat them! Facts, only.

Peace, love & celery sticks.

You probably wanna read a fancy bio? But first things first! Atoke published a book titled, +234 - An Awkward Guide to Being Nigerian. It's available on Amazon. ;)  Also available at Roving Heights bookstore. Okay, let's go on to the bio: With a Masters degree in Creative Writing from Swansea University, Atoke hopes to be known as more than just a retired foodie and a FitFam adherent. She can be reached for speechwriting, copywriting, letter writing, script writing, ghost writing  and book reviews by email – [email protected]. She tweets with the handle @atoke_ | Check out her Instagram page @atoke_ and visit her website for more information.


  1. Puzzles

    August 27, 2018 at 1:44 pm

    While I try to read anytime from the beginning of the semester (did overnight jacking before and during exam period), I noticed in my uni days that I assimilate best in the mornings between 7 – 11 am and in the evenings between 7 – 11 pm on empty stomach so I use that time when exam period has drawn close. I also tend to have running stomach before my exams. That’s why i don’t eat before writing any exams, even if the exams are in the afternoon.

    Now working and writing professional exams, I try to read whenever I’m free and ensure I take at least two weeks out of my leave days so I can focus on reading for and writing the exams. The pressure is higher as I’m the one paying and the exams are EXPENSIVE but thank God I have passed them all. I still write exams on empty stomach though.

  2. Rose Umane

    August 27, 2018 at 2:20 pm

    Exams scares me a lot most especially when my attention is divided e.g working and studying. The only time I feel good about writing exams is when I have covered all the topics 100%, ehenehen, I will be so happy and even ask for extra sheet.

  3. Late bloomer

    August 27, 2018 at 3:17 pm

    I don’t like exams o so I always read everything because I’m scared that it’s the part I didn’t read that will be covered in the exam. I remember during Waec I didn’t sleep at all before the English paper na so this sleep catch for exam hall I had to take a quick nap.
    It’s funny that I don’t like exams I still went and applied for a Master degree now that I’m done I’m starting another 3yr nursing program next week. I don’t know if they are doing me because it cannot ordinary eyes(I mean it’s not ojulasan)
    Nice write up Atoke. By the your book is on point.

  4. Bowl

    August 27, 2018 at 3:20 pm

    I went to a very competitive medical school . People start reading for exams the week before the resumption of a new class. Then , they would read for 48 out of 24hours before a quiz or exams finally comes. Most times, you could literally charge the entire college from the collective tension emitted by their efforts.. Then during a quiz or exam , flatmates will not exchange ‘common good morning ‘.
    The worst tension experienced comes while waiting for the results . Results are usually released 24 hours after the last paper. There’s actually a certain brutality to the casualty toll.
    So people do all manner of things to survive this 24 hours . And when the results are finally released the entire college erupts like an active volcano that had been repressed against it will .
    For me I didn’t like this toxic tension. I found a way to manage it . Besides one is forever writing exams .

  5. Bowl

    August 27, 2018 at 3:23 pm

    I forgot to mention my friends who never had their baths , never brushed their teeth all because of exam tension . All , Ajebutters of no mean standing !

  6. Abi

    August 27, 2018 at 3:23 pm

    You already know how I feel. Been 9 years since my last exam but I still dream about being ill-prepared for an exam. Sure there’s a psychological term for that. Toying with the idea of going back to school but can’t imagine sitting for an exam right now. Especially as na me dey pay!

  7. MEE

    August 27, 2018 at 5:06 pm

    Yay Atoke!!! Chei exams, being a child was simpler. I’m currently writing ACCA exams and I have 3 papers left. I’ve been eyeing up that CFA exam as well and still unsure whether or not to do it as I’ve heard stories. I get nervous when studying for exams, sometimes I start laughing and arranging things. At first it was the fear of what will my father say/do, as I got older that calmed down. Right now I’m being told it’s just an exam, ehn you can write it again just try. I wish I heard that more growing up. Right now, it’s not worrying not about what my dad will say, but instead me not wanting to waste money/career goals 😀 God has been good to me though, even with all the anxiety 🙂

  8. Ajala & Foodie

    August 27, 2018 at 6:11 pm

    Golly, Exams? What even motivated humans to come up with those things.? While I know this is not the point of the topic but I genuinely think Exams especially standardized Exams are not the best way to test for competency. A college course mate of mine. This girl was exceptionally book smart. Straight A’s and I mean A++ in every single subject but something and standardized testing with this girl. She barely passed the SATs sef only got into college because she was also a long distance runner. She however kept flunking as in FAIL with a capital F!!! the MCAT, so no medical school l. Today, she is a Teacher and I strongly believe the world has missed out and what could have been a great and exceptional Doctor. People she helped i.e studied with and explained stuff to all made it to Vet schools. Dentistry programs but she had to settle for being a teacher because she just could not pass standardized exams. Then imagine when some companies require that make you take standardized testing abi na reasoning for Employment. I just took one last week from the comfort of my home but by the time I was done I had a flipping migraine. I really wonder what the reasoning is behind these things in schools not to mention employment !!!
    I get the shakes during Exams but only during the standardized ones not sure why. Then once it is done I get a migraine. Maybe it is hormonal

  9. Single Shalewa, Bitter Bintu!

    August 27, 2018 at 7:04 pm

    I’m indifferent to exams – you either pass or fail, so I really couldn’t afford to have any yeye headache over it (maybe that’s why I’m not a graduate by the way).

    I was never one who’d study and assimilate well, I was more of a listen while being taught person which was why I never skipped classes. I would remember what I was taught, any day anytime, but to read and remember na war.
    Back in Secondary School, I tried reading overnight (copy copy since I didn’t want to look unserious), I slept off, tried coffee, na foul! That’s why caffeine is like sleeping aid to my system. The funny thing is, I always came out tops. I would just gloss through my notes, as long as I didn’t miss the classes, I would be fine. But one thing that helped me mentally was, I would look FORWARD to the end of the examination, not the exam itself. Like, if I have exams from August 1-7th, my brain blanks out those days, they don’t exist sort of. I start making plans from and for August 8. I really can’t explain it but it always worked for me, it helped me cope with the mental and physical challenges that came with examinations.

    I think I need to go back to school. But I’ve got two babies – my husband and a toddler.

    I digress.

  10. Lol

    August 27, 2018 at 7:13 pm

    Nothing beats the joy of seeing questions you know the answers to…… exams are an art in pressure… works better for boys than girls. How I hate course work. I’d rather exams than courseworks and 10000 or 50000 words. Sometimes…I would get a thrill when I open the paper…an excitement….do others get this feeling. I think it’s the amount of exams I’ve sat.
    The one I failed that hurt the most is when a professor who had been so impressed by me on a placement was examining on his specialist station. I just froze and messed up the whole thing when I saw prof Rampton was examining. He said at the end…”dont worry, I’m sure you’ve passed the others”…lo n behold i failed that single station. I was so embarassed!

  11. BijouxthisBijouxthat

    August 28, 2018 at 6:33 am

    Hated exams and still hate exams!
    But I luuuurrvve school so I find myself always back to school one way or the other (they are definitely doing me for sure) ?
    I find it very difficult reading to assimilate but when it comes to listening, you can’t me ?
    That is why I never skipped classes unless I was dying! When I hear, I am soo good!
    I still hate exams because I don’t think it’s a fair method of assessment

  12. ozyy

    August 28, 2018 at 2:55 pm

    Anything academic, count me in. During my ACCA days, people used to wonder how i still looked fresh during preparation time. On exam day, people wondered how i had time to look calm and be laughing before exams. Hey, its all thanks to GOD who gives confidence and helps us prepare well. Good Times. In the end, i’m a bookworm.

  13. Ifeoluwa

    August 29, 2018 at 1:02 am

    Funny that I’m awake preparing for an exam I have in 2-days time and coming here and reading this???

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