The Final Test


I've been meaning to post for quite some time, but I've been far too occupied to be able to sit down at my computer and dedicate an hour to writing a new blog post. I arrived back in Newfoundland on 11 December and have since been visiting with friends, watching Mom decorate, snuggling with my kittens, and generally enjoying being at home. The best part about leaving home is coming back to it.

I wanted to post this particular thought about 10 days ago, so it's a bit less timely now, but it'll have to do. It's still applicable, anyway, as exams are still happening at UBC. Onwards!

On 9 December I wrote what was, by all accounts, the final exam of my career in the Arts.

I have always hated writing English exams. I feel that are totally non-pedagogical in that I have never understood what I’m supposed to learn from walking into an exam where I don’t know what question I’m going to have to answer, and must formulate two strong essays complete with thesis statement, full body paragraphs, and a conclusion in 2.5 hours about something I may have never even thought about before. It’s impossible to prepare for, unless you read every single poem/novel/essay assigned for the course multiple times, and read every piece of criticism ever written on them. Exams do not allow good writers time to showcase their skills to their full potential, and make poor writers seem even worse than they probably are because of the pressure to write so quickly.

I once had a prof tell me that he was testing the creativity of students, but I don’t think the point of an exam at the end of a 12 week course about the themes of violence and de-centering in Russian literature should be to see how quickly and cleverly students can write about the function of lamps in One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich.

As much as I dislike writing exams, as I watched the students gather outside of the exam room, holding dog-eared pages of notes, pencils falling out of every available pocket, nails being bitten in a circle around my head, part of me missed my undergraduate exams.

While writing exams is stressful and makes everyone eat more, sleep less, and procrastinate in ways they didn’t know was possible, there’s something about the communal stress that brings people together. In my earlier years at MUN when I was still fooling myself by thinking I would pursue a career in science, I remember gathering on 5.5 at the library with my fellow chem students. We’d sit three or four to a table, each with a pile of notes, pencil case, text book, water bottle, iPod (or, in those days, a generic mp3 player), cell phone, granola bars, and extra large triple triples from Tim Hortons. While we had the best intentions to ace our exams, we basically only succeeded in filling our text message inboxes with the insight that we were sitting a foot away and still texting, and then giggled hysterically because we were in the silent area and weren’t allowed to be laughing, so naturally it was funnier.

Exam period is a time of bonding with your classmates and fellow students. You’re all on campus for obscene amounts of time, so you go for lunch; meet up in the library to go over some confusing part of the prof’s notes; make coffee runs to Tim’s mostly just to get away from the library and complain about how tired and stressed you are; start talking to someone in your class who you hadn’t previously and connect over the absurdity of the final paper you have to write, discuss deadlines and whether or not the prof has responded to your latest email; sit in the book stacks with a friend and take pictures on their computer; plan to meet up at 8:30 with the same three people you’ve shared a table with on 2.5 for the past four days in order to get the prime table, and because you’ve developed a rhythm in your study patterns; sitting next to a friend on a computer and, even though you’re not speaking, still feeling connected because you know you’re both suffering through to just meet the word count and finish the paper.

So as much as I’m glad that the heyday of exams has passed, I do recall the weeks of my life spent at the QEII Library with a certain level of fondness and affection. Even though I’ve only retained a small percentage of what I’ve crammed into my brain during MUN exam time, I’ve maintained a large number of the friendships that blossomed over a mutual exasperation with the life of academia.

I think I’m ok with that.


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