Finally, it happened. I’ve had my first horrifying experience of cramming before an exam. I’m probably hyping this up too much but ever since I did my GCSEs I’ve been very good at preparing for exams and to be in total panic mode is something so alien to me that I didn’t think it could happen. In terms of preparing for exams there has been a negative correlation between my dedication to revision and the importance of the exam. That is to say; the more important the exam, the less I feel like revising for it!
In those ancient times of doing my GCSEs (it was nearly 5 years ago which is almost a quarter of my life) I worked my socks off to get the best grades I could because no one thought I was that clever and there was no expectation of me to shine particularly brightly. It turned out that all the hard work and revision schedules paid off and I left secondary school with 9 A*’s and 2 A’s, head and shoulders above all the people that had been perceived as more intelligent than me (yes I am bragging). Those now unimportant GCSEs are my best academic results to date but they have set the bar unimaginably high and since then I have struggled to replicate their success.
AS levels hit me like a train. We’d been warned beforehand that they were “a big step up” but like everyone else I didn’t believe this and ploughed into my work with an ego bigger than my biology teacher’s hair. That ego was soon shattered by that same biology teacher who battered us with millions of new science words that none of us had ever dreamed existed. It was the same with other subjects; I quickly found out that Maths wasn’t all fun circle theorems and simple algebra, Chemistry was more like physics and involved more than remembering the ten chemical symbols that we had come across previously. The only thing that I didn’t really struggle with was Art and I was glad to have that blanket to fall back into when academia was giving me hell.
I struggled but I managed it and was determined to show the world that I wasn’t just a one trick pony and could apply my intelligence to any situation. I got the results I wanted and could carry on my subjects to A Level. Unfortunately, I had to leave the art behind because the work load had given me too much stress and it was nothing to do with my envisioned science career. I remember having a meeting with my art teacher as she was trying to convince me to carry on her subject. She told me that I could breeze through A level year and would easily get a good grade with minimal effort. I didn’t believe her and it has never been in my nature to put anything on the back burner; Art would either get 100% or nothing and I had to choose nothing.
A Levels hit me like a piano falling unexpectedly from above. Biology was harder, Chemistry was awful and Maths was simply impossible. At the same time, I was hoping to get into vet school so was having to attend extra sessions after school that would teach me how to complete the BMAT so I could apply for Cambridge. Along with personal statements, practise vet interviews and hideous amounts of coursework, I was slowly drowning in work that I didn’t want to do. I got through it with copious amounts of help and support from my amazing teachers and the best form tutor I could have wished for.
Then my fate changed. I had two interviews for vet school, one for Cambridge and one for Bristol and during both of them I really struggled to come up with an answer to the question “why do you want to be a vet?” It was something that I couldn’t put my finger on and as A levels got harder my faith in my ability to actually cope with the amount of work vet school entailed was slowly fading. All of a sudden I didn’t want to be a vet anymore. I had set up my UCAS application with nothing but vet schools and no back up because at the time there was nothing else I ended up being rejected by vet school but that didn’t matter because I didn’t want to go there anymore. I was all set to take a gap year to work out what I wanted to do in life and apply for university a year later. I was happy with this decision as it gave me time to get my life together and maybe slow down for a bit.
The Gods obviously had a different idea. Out of the blue I got a letter from the University of Nottingham, my top choice for vet school, saying that even though they didn’t want me as a vet student they still wanted me to join them on a different course. I was elated, such an unexpected door opening! I browsed the courses and the one that really stood out for me was microbiology; bacteria had been something that I loved learning about in A level Biology so why not do a degree in it? I sent off my decision quickly and was invited to an open day. At this point I was still set on having a gap year and remember asking so many questions about deferring.
Skipping forward to my results day, it had been such a rocky road that I had no idea how I had done. It turned out that I hadn’t done that badly, A* for biology, A for Chemistry and thanks to my excellent AS results, B in Maths. I was free to go to university and immediately thought “balls to taking a gap year, I want to go to university now!”
And off to university I went.
Doing a degree has hit me like a tornado and I’ve been whirling around with feelings that resemble the spin cycle on a washing machine since day one. Everything is a step up but I have in no way reached the top of the stair case yet! Luckily my first-year exam results only counted towards me getting into second year but unfortunately these have been my best university results so far and I’m gutted they’ll never be recognised in my degree certificate! Second year nearly went down the drain when I realised that a career in the lab was most definitely not up my street. Thankfully I resurfaced in the spring term, my ambitions resurrected by a module that made me realise that I loved talking about science and so introduced me to the world of science communication. I scraped through my second year exams and came out with a 2:1 much to the disappointment of my parents.
Now I’m in third year and I’ve begun the year with an attitude that is questionable to say the least. I think because I know what I want to do and I have a Masters in science communication lined up for me next year, any modules that don’t hold much interest for me suffer as a result. That doesn’t mean that I haven’t tried. I made good notes at the start of the revision period and took the time to get my head around all the things that I hadn’t grasped in lectures. After all, my passion for science communication is going to get me nowhere in an exam about plant pathology. My sketchy enthusiasm for revision wore off very quickly and I was crossing topics off my list that I had covered but no information had gone into the memory section of my brain.
It was only a day before my first exam that I realised how much trouble I was going to be in if I didn’t up my revision game. On this day I spent my time in an empty silent study room in the library, head down, brain in gear and took regular breaks to read my book and eat. I was fuelled by panic but at that point I would have stolen motivation if it was possible to do so!
I went home after this session elated and proud of myself for finally taking action at the 11th hour but doing it properly. The cramming paid off and despite having to skip the first question I was able to answer the rest of the exam with enough detail that I was satisfied I had done my best.
However, there’s no rest for the wicked and it was back to that silent study room for me to cram for the next exam. This also paid off and I left that one behind with a smile of recognition that I hadn’t stalled at any of the questions in the paper.
So what have I learnt from this experience? A good question but perhaps the most appropriate question is what I’m going to do with the lessons that I’ve learnt. Well, I have one more set of exams and therefore one last chance to prove myself that I’m still able to apply my knowledge to every situation that’s thrown at me. I know myself better than I did before and now know what I’m capable of doing when something really matters. I never want to be in this panicked situation again and so the only thing that I can do is prepare better than I did this time and make sure that I don’t repeat the mistakes I made last year and this year.
I have one more chance to get a degree result that I’m proud of because this qualification trumps all my previous ones and I don’t want to be the girl that didn’t reach her potential because she was too lazy to get her arse to the library and revise!