I Survived my Cambridge Exams

I survived my first exams!

So I have just completed my first set of Cambridge exams and its taught me so much in terms of how I learn and what to expect from studying here.

Cambridge is one of those places that even when you’re here studying and learning, its formidable reputation can still leave you a bit bewildered, confused and at times, intimidated. But I would like to argue that this is a good thing (although if you had told me this a few weeks ago whilst I was in the depths of my revision, I may have argued otherwise).

As a first year History student, I have 3 exams at the start of third term (Easter term) and these are called Pre-Lims (short for preliminary examinations). They don’t count for my final grade and are held as soon as term starts, in Week 0 in fact. When I first arrived, prelims were hardly a worry. A greater concern lay in how I was going to manage writing my essays and actually making friends at university, without thinking about the exams at the end of the year. Moreover, I was consistently told that they do not count for anything and naturally I put them to the back of my mind.

However, as third term approached (I have managed to make friends by the way, although a perfect balance of work and socialising appears elusive), I increasingly became aware of the fact that I would have to take some exams when I came back to Cambridge next. Easter was thus spent revising (we are advised to take two weeks relaxing since terms are so intense – I happily obliged) and then I began my work. Third term arrived and so did my exams. Admittedly, I was petrified. Not only were they the first exams I had done since A-levels, but they were “Cambridge” exams, and this was a scary thought. However I am glad to tell you that I survived to tell the tale (write the blog) and it really wasn’t as awful as I thought it was going to be.

The questions were approachable if you had done the revision and whilst I was continuously scared of not being able to answer the minimum of three questions which each paper required, my mind was put at ease when I opened the paper. I wrote what was needed (although whether or not it was necessarily written well, I have yet to find out) and generally, I felt that I had done the best I could.

There is this tendency to wrap “Cambridge University” up into a parcel and put it on a pedestal which you consistently believe is out of reach. This mindset is unhelpful and I think more people need to realise that whilst Cambridge has exceedingly high expectations, they understand you are only human. This may seem rather hypocritical of me, and I admit that I have a tendency to feel like I am not up to the standard necessary to study at an institute of such high calibre as this, but this is silly.

Cambridge University is just like any other university in this respect. You are here to learn and absolutely nobody expects you to be perfect straight away. Allowing these fears to stop you from being ambitious or performing to the best of your ability is just a shame. Cambridge provides the opportunities for you to perform intellectually to the best of your ability, and whilst this may seem terrifying, it is in fact incredibly valuable.


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