Tuesday, 18 May 2010


When you string words together a few times it becomes hard to make out what it is...

Exams are less than two weeks away. Currently two papers behind my revision schedule, which isn't too big a deal, because I can easily make that up later this week with a bit of effort. I'm surprised I've still to get The Fear™, because I still feel strangely relaxed, even though lectures finish today. It's quite possibly because the people around me still feel quite laid back about exams, and also probably because I've done this all before now.

It's sort of funny to see the first years fretting about exams and remembering where I was last year. The first year is so fucking terrifying because you're not used to tripos standard exams. We're all smart, we all breezed through A-Levels, and the transition is a bit of a shock to the system. You cruise through high school and then suddenly you how to learn how to actually revise for stuff, because merely remembering from the lessons apparently doesn't work any more.

I'm not boasting, or exaggerating, and I guess for people at Cambridge things are pretty similar anyway, but I basically went into A-Level exams having done a few hours revision at most beforehand, and I'd rock up and get over 90% with very little effort. We'd done a ton of past papers in lessons, we knew the sort of questions to expect, things were pretty easy. And now suddenly Tripos papers totally fuck that sort of attitude up. Not only do the exams require far more work and far more revision, but the percentage boundaries are shifted so much. At GCSE or A-Level, scoring 65% on an exam would be an utter failure. I don't know how I'd have reacted if I'd got a mark that low, but given I was expecting mid-80's at a minimum and mostly hoping for 95% or higher, I'd probably have cried. Here though, 65% is actually a pretty solid mark. It's a mid to high 2.1, and is perfectly acceptable.

It takes a while to adjust to that. I remember doing my first past paper under self-imposed exam conditions while revising last year. I thought I'd done horribly. I didn't even finish all the questions. And I got 62% or something when I actually marked it, which as it stood was a good mark. It just takes an adjustment to realise that you're not going to be able to do every part of every question, and you're possibly not going to finish the paper in time. It's a bit of a paradigm shift, but it's actually fine if you can't do everything. You're not expected to do. Unlike GCSE and A-Level, where you only drop marks through mistakes and particularly awkward questions, now you drop marks by not knowing stuff, and that's still fine for the vast majority of people.

So yeah, first years, don't sweat it so much. When people say they're doing 14 hours a day, they're either bullshitting and spend most of those 14 hours on Facebook, or they're doing too much revision. Unless you're doing Maths or Phys Natsci you'll probably be fine with 4-6 hours a day. Other people might disagree (and are welcome to post their own opinions), but just go through every single past paper in the last five or six years and make sure you understand how to do every question, and you'll be fine. Summary notes for lectures look pretty and are probably helpful, but they're definitely not necessary, so don't sweat if you've not done anything like that. Don't bother too much about how much the people around you are doing either. Use them for help, but if they seem to be doing twice the work then don't worry about it. Just tick them off in your mind as either a liar, a ridiculous try-hard overachiever, or a moron who needs to do that much work to get a good mark. It doesn't have to be true, but if you're confident you've done enough work, then you probably have.

I can't remember, but I don't think per day I'm revising as hard as I did last year, but last year I only had two weeks of revision, and this year I've taken four weeks, so I'm expecting it to still work out fine. Paper 6 is going to utterly annihilate me, and I'd be surprised if I got anything higher than a 3rd or a 2.2 mark on that paper, but aside from section A on Paper 5 everything else doesn't seem too bad, and I'm currently fairly confident I can come out with a strong 2.1. That said, I've not got The Fear yet, so we'll see if I'm still confident the day before exams.

In other life, rowing seems to be going fairly well with WII, currently enjoying playing baseball on the paddock fairly often (and probably will sometime today if people are keen to join in, though we have limited gloves). All I need is to start winning some games at the Mahjong society and things will be going pretty nicely. Speaking of Mahjong, I had this result a couple of days ago:
Probably needs to be click-enlarged to read the writing, but was very pleased to win that game, and even more pleased I managed to beat the guy down into last place as well.

Also joined the Daa! Daa! Daa! project for Frostii, which is attempting to finish off as a joint what AonE started and never finished. Though currently it's on episode 63 out of 78, and I've only watched the first episode, so got a fair number of episodes to blast through if I want to be useful and not spoiler things for myself. Doubt it'll move too quickly though, so I should have time to do it once exams are over.

13 days until exams start, 18 days until exams finish (and then back home for the weekend for my Nan's birthday). Bring on May Bumps and May Week, because no matter how much of a chore the revision becomes, and how scary the exams are, the two weeks or so afterwards more than make up for it.


  1. You're right in some ways; stressing out because the people around you are doing more isn't worth it. I think what frustrates me the most is that some people don't seem to appreciate that everyone learns in a different way. If making notes is your thing, that's fine. To say it's not "necessary" isn't always true. With my degree (essentially a glorified memory test), just doing past papers is no use, because like it or not, I have to know about a million facts, for which note-making is pretty key for me.
    Other than that, couldn't agree more about the post-exam period. Also, can I try throwing/catching with your baseball glove please? Yes I'm weak and girly but PLEASE?

  2. Yeah, you've got a point there. If you've got a ton of stuff to memorise, then (from my experience at least) the only efficient way to actually do it is just to write everything a bunch of times until you pick it all up. Good ol' write-cover-check.

    Things are going to differ a fair bit from degree to degree. For example, I have absolutely no idea how I'd go about revising for an English exam or something.

    And sure, you can have a go catching/throwing with the baseball and gloves ;)

  3. @Aditi: When we next do some baseball I'll knock on your door on the way downstairs :)

  4. Nick, you keen/free this afternoon at like 4:15 when I get back from my lecture? Could do the same baseball-slops combo as yesterday, but without having to faff buying the set first.