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.
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.

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9 thoughts on “

  1. hugh_mannity says:

    That sounds not dissimilar from Teh C0llidge St00dint’s experience. Except his was in class, not exams. It’s not in the least bit uncommon it seems — a substantial proportion of students experience it.

    Do a test run on the meds before using them for reals in an exam setting. TCS found that the first 2 they gave him made him completely loopy for a couple of days. You don’t want to discover that at the exam centre.

    Good Luck!

  2. digipatty says:

    Sounds rather like my first calculus final, except nobody bothered to give me any anti-anxiety meds.

    Don’t worry, you’re a smart guy. You got this.

    • ant_forster says:

      Your display picture is massively ironic. Did you use it on purpose or was it a hilarious and unfortunate coincidence?

      • digipatty says:

        It’s the default. I wasn’t logged in when I commented, so I did the whole “okay-you-can-put-in-your-password-as-you-comment” thing.

        Or, like right now I’m replying to this from my email, so I guess it will be the same one again. >_> No secret subtext to my display picture, I promise!

  3. meteorakuli says:

    *hugs*. I’m always on the other end of a phone/laptop.

    On an unrelated note, “aggressively reasonable 10pm” exactly describes going to bed at that time in university. It is a good phrase.

  4. huntersglenn says:

    I know you’re most likely not the ‘hugging’ kind, but darn it, this screams for one. So one virtual HHHHHHUUUUUGGGG for you.

    Been a long time since my college days, but one thing I learned quickly when doing essay questions on exams was that the more I re-read what I’d written and tried to change it to make more sense, the worse my grade became. When I left it alone, no matter how disjointed it seemed to me, the grade was better (especially for the one philosophy class that I took). I was a history major, and the main things the professors were looking for were signs that I’d actually paid attention in class. Something I’d learned earlier was to always include at least one thing from a lecture, instead of relying totally on what was in the textbook for my sources.

    The main thing to keep in mind is that it’s just a test. Yes, you can fail the test, and get a bad overall grade for the class, but it’s not the end of things. You can take the class again (at least I hope they’d let you do that if you had a bad enough grade), and all that matters by the time you get your degree is whether or not you earned the degree. One or two poor test grades will not keep you from that degree. If you studied and prepared, and felt you did your best, then you’ve got nothing to feel badly about should the grade fall short of what you wanted.

    Hang in there!

  5. ant_forster says:

    Which meds are you on, and how close are your exams? Hopefully they’ll be sensible and not give you ones with side effects, but I know mine (Citalopram, an SSRI) made me a bit nuts for the first two weeks. I doubt you’re on the same, but best to be sure.
    Also *HUGS* (like everyone else).
    I know what that’s like (and, ironically, how annoying it is when everyone says that- but it’s true). It’s uncontrollable and horrific and wretched, and I hope it doesn’t happen again. I don’t know what advice to give to stop them, other than the classic thing of ‘breath deeply and concentrate on something else’ like reciting the alphabet backward. Although, in an exam setting, I don’t think taking your mind off the task at hand is very useful.
    Sorry I’m not much help D:
    *hugs again*

    • brosencrantz says:

      Diazepam 2mg, and tomorrow/the 22nd. GP advised me to take a few ahead of time to see if there were any soporific effects, but no, so DRUGGED TO THE GUNWALES I GO!

      And thanks.

  6. siz_t says:

    *huge huge hugs*

    Panic attacks are horrible and evil and annoying and normally come at the worst possible of moments. Anti-anxiety meds will help, I would imagine. Dr Basra is a legend of a guy. Counselling at Birmingham is brilliant, I would really recommend it if you’re even thinking about taking him up on his suggestion. :)

    I am now going to say the worst thing that can ever be said to someone in your situation, and I know it is, because I’ve been there and I’ve got annoyed when people said it to me. Don’t worry. Just like the invigilator said, you’re in your first year. You will pass your first year. If you don’t, you can retake the bits you didn’t, go into second year as normal, and this time next year it’ll all be a distant memory. And now you know what happened, you’ll be far more prepared for when the exams do matter, with a bit of diazepam/counselling/hugs & tea from housemate (that’s me.)

    I’m so sorry you’re feeling so rough though. You aren’t a failure by anyone’s standards, anxiety is normal, and you’re awesome.

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