Exam stress

Letter about the university degree system and continuous assessment


I saw something in The Times about people doing worse than they might have done in exams because of the stress, which suggests that they are working towards the totally horrible idea of not merely conflating the period of supervised ‘preparation’ with the taking of the exam, but actually eliminating the objective component of the exam altogether.  Of course they like to reinforce the idea of the relevance and importance of the ‘preparation’, in which you are at the mercy of other people. 

In my case, it was all the preliminary interference that did the harm, and made it impossible for me to be motivated at the end.  It is true that the final straw was the change in the structure of the papers, but I had only been reduced to a situation in which I was vulnerable to that by the eight years of maltreatment, which had elapsed since I was prevented from starting on my run of exam taking at thirteen.  It was really most unnatural for me to prepare thoroughly only a selection of the material, and this resulted from the many negative psychological factors, which had been set up during those years. 

An accidentally anomalous result of that kind would not matter if one was free to take the exam again in six months’ time until one got a good enough result, as with a driving test.  The fact that this is not allowed, and all my suggestions of taking some other degree under my own auspices were rejected, arises no doubt from the wish to keep the individual maximally at the mercy of other people.

A large part of the stress, which was certainly horrific, arose from the fact that the consequences of failure would be irrevocable as well as unthinkably great.  So what one was facing was a life sentence.

Again, this is the way people seem to want it to be, so that the individual is maximally at the mercy of those who run his ‘education’, and minimally able to retrieve the situation by any effort which he can make under his own auspices. 

Taking a first degree at such an advanced age would not have been enjoyable in any circumstances, but the stress would have been greatly reduced, if not eliminated, if retaking had been possible.  Actually, taking a degree in another subject at short notice would have been preferable to retaking the exam in the same subject, because the preparation had stretched out over far too long, and plenty of people had taken advantage of this to load that particular subject with negative associations.

It is, I suppose, on account of the wish to increase, rather than to reduce, the power of society to damage a person’s life irrevocably, thus asserting the power of collective society and the impotence of the individual, however able and determined he may be, that there is never any discussion of the need to provide means of entry or re-entry to university positions for those who have been forced out into the wilderness, by whatever mishap or anomaly.