Late Modern history exam today, the one I was least confident about. I had a couple of subjects down pretty well, done a couple of practice essays and a lot of practice plans; as we’d been advised, if the subjects I had really focused on came up it was all good. Didn’t have much sleep the night before, annoyingly, despite having gone to bed at an aggressively reasonable 10pm. But had a proper walk to wake me up, plenty of tea and a good chicken-and-spaghetti lunch. It was bitterly cold.
Exam was in the learning centre, LG32, at 2pm. Left flat at 1:30 to be on the safe side; didn’t bring mobile phone or any paperwork (unaware of the exact rules but wanted to play it safe). Arrived LG32 among a crowd of my fellow extra-time-bros and waited.
And waited some more.
Invigilator told us that it was a result of a paper being delivered late, that it wasn’t the fault of the one bloke holding us all up finishing his exam. It was 2:25 that he finally left, with a large number of undeserved but truly vicious looks directed at him. We filed in and I realised that despite having been assured of a word processor I was sitting down in a room which did not have a single computer in it.
Informed invigilator, who ran in and out of the room phoning people and eventually told me that it was sorted out; moved a couple of rooms along to one full of computers and a few students tapping away. So it was at 2:49, not far shy of an entire fucking hour of worrying later, that I actually sat down and started to type.
Essay questions: One on Total War! Score! Others included nuclear weapons’ effect on the early Cold War, and post-’45 social movements as an indication of the health of democracy; so one I was very strong on and a choice between two I was ok on. Started drawing up a plan on how to approach Total War and began to fill in the paragraphs. It was a nice vague question (“discuss”) to show off in and was all going much better than expected.
Didn’t feel very good at all so asked to go to the toilet. Upon returning, my 700 word essay-in-progress didn’t make sense. Looked at it and felt it was wholly unconnected to the question and reality. It looked unsalvageable, I didn’t know where to start again and I was already almost half an hour down. Everything I remembered about total war and essay technique was falling out of my head. Invigilators noticed that I was not looking a picture of sanity and asked if I wanted to go outside and calm down.
I did and the invigilator, a kindly looking bloke with a grey moustache, told me not to panic; that I was a first year and however badly I did here it wasn’t going to destroy me; that just the plan he’d seen over my shoulder looked great; that it was give up now and waste it all or try to at least give a decent account of myself; that he’d been through the same thing and done surprisingly well. Told me to breathe.
Asked if I wanted to go back in. I did. Sat back down at my computer and looked at the screen.
Completely freaked out. Having a decent answer – having any sort of answer – seemed about as possible as walking to the moon. Felt completely incapable, completely miserable about my chances, felt like an utter failure and couldn’t string two thoughts together. Broke down and started crying. This was what my GP later confirmed as a panic attack.
Asked to be excused. Invigilator asked if I wanted to go to the medical centre. I said I wasn’t sure where it was. Rather than give directions, they called over two people in a car to drive me the less-than-1km journey, which looking back strikes me as overkill but at the time made as much sense as anything else.
Disjointed, miserable account of the proceedings to a nurse; brief, miserable sit in waiting room; slightly less disjointed and miserable discussion with one Dr. Basra, extremely nice and sensible guy. He advised me that the important thing here was to stop that happening in my next two exams; recommended I ask Learning Support for counselling, and prescribed me some anti-anxiety medication in the short term to take before exams. He also wrote me up a form to submit as a mitigation.
That could have gone better.