Every 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.