He was sick.
I gave him my bed;
he gave me his words —
mixed with bile.
(I thanked him).
He apologised one time too many.
“I am sorry,”
I find myself saying.
The smoke of my breath clouded my judgement.
neither of us will find
of a burned-out cigarette.
iced rain on my window
echoes the sound of your fingers
to be let in,
like a hail of bullets,
on my skin.
— Iris Robin
Immunity and Bagels
It was April of 2013 at Margaret Addison Hall. All year long, I had been granted some uncanny immunity to heavy term work. I had managed to avoid every round of midterms and finals throughout both semesters, but all that glistens is rarely gold in the soul-crushing institution that is this university. My ‘immunity’ was but a classic case of freshman naïveté — one that was swiftly overturned by a particularly rude awakening at about four am on the sixteenth of April that year.
I was apparently not very savvy when it came to public, electronic announcements made by the university. I hadn’t bothered to look up that I was scheduled for a European history exam until about five hours prior to the exam itself, purely out of curiosity. I braced myself. My first academic transgression was about to detonate and smear failure all over my transcript, and I had no one but myself and the Brunny to blame.
I sat at my desk with my lips pursed, as I cracked the spine of my textbook for the first time since I had purchased it. I hadn’t gone to a single lecture all year. An upper year had given me her notes from two years ago. The professor was known not to change his course material, and her notes were every lecture, verbatim.
That didn’t stop my eyes from glazing over. The excuses began to pour in. I needed coffee to study. I needed a bagel to study. I needed someone to talk me out of my anxiety to study. In the free-spirited mentality that underlaid about 95 per cent of the past year, I took another two hours to justify some shape or form of procrastination as ‘mental preparation’ for studying. Things were going so well.
In the end, I did pass the course. I swear to this day that it was as a result of my valiant artistic efforts on the exam. I spent the entire hour that I was condemned to that examination room by drawing cats all over the question sheet. It either tickled someone’s fancy, or there was a colossal misprint on my transcript, because I finished European history with a B. Lesson learned, though — check Portal.
— Corinne Przybyslawski
Has a look, a stare,
Expectant of crisis.
Exams, six exams,
Hurtling blatantly towards ruination.
She is not modelled, this season,
To attack with new vim.
Hindered now in present,
Surviving since —
By grasping upcoming good,
A promising outlook,
A future premature,
She longingly, laboredly can proceed.
— A piem by Ariel Gomes
Sleep, goddess — sing to me of the deep sleep,
Or rather lack thereof, which plagued those students,
Those champions of essays, those slayers of labs,
Those heroes who set out to solve all math problems.
Whether tucked into their beds or at their desks,
Hypnos refrains from visiting. The grains of sand
Which compose the song of slumber lay stagnant
In the king of sleep’s domain, surrounded by
Dream haunted poppies. Their heads hang heavy
And eyes seal shut in eternal hibernation,
Unlike the crimson eyes which gaze out the window,
Searching for Hypnos to quell their desire.
As Apollo peaks over the edge of the world,
His brilliant rays piercing through the curtains,
The English student stumbles out of bed.
A stack of books sits upon the night table,
Colourful slips of paper peering out the sides.
Pages of an essay wait patiently
For her to retrieve them from the printer.
Like a sloth, she crawls towards the bathroom,
Her long limbs moving listlessly forward
And her unkempt hair hanging by her face.
A single glance at the clock is all it takes
To transform our sloth into a warrior
As she takes the up toothbrush with the fury
Of a thousand ships. Neither teeth nor gums
Can escape the deadly assault of toothpaste
And bristles coupled with the flow of the sea,
Its waves crashing against the cavern’s soft walls.
Yes, goddess, sing to me of the long nights
Which our warriors power through, fighting
Those deadly assignments and endless readings,
As though the great hero Heracles himself
Taking on those twelve deadly ordeals,
Emerging early morning, triumphant,
Albeit with bloodshot eyes and drowsy minds.
— Natasha Ramoutar
All of the note-taking dexterity, time management skills and study tips I have ignored for the entirety of the semester are finally going to be put to good use. I will be able to justify that “me-time” I took a few weeks ago, those concerts I went to on Friday nights and the Netflix binges that unexpectedly devoured a couple of my Saturdays. This is when I will be at the library when its doors open with a double americano in hand, prepared to stay until close. I will have my backpack of books and my reusable bag overflowing with food for lunch, dinner and snack time.
I will kick my ass in gear, because exam season is here.
It all seems like a great plan until I show up at the library two hours after opening, which prompts my stress response to kick in because I have just lost two hours of prime study-time. And then, around 3:00 pm, I start fading. The eyes become heavy, the mind begins to wander, and I realized I have just spent 25 minutes exploring the “Browse” section of Spotify looking for a perfect study playlist. I just lost another 25 minutes. Panic-mode ensues.
But it’s okay, because I still have one day until my first exam. And that will be a productive day where I can focus and study my ass off, reviewing everything I need to slay the exam.
This is my exhausting train of thought before every exam. It’s a roller coaster of stress and emotions, where, one minute I feel secure in my knowledge and the next moment I panic, because I feel that I have not fulfilled the arbitrary amount of study-time I decided was required to do well. Despite this ride making my stomach flip and causing the occasional tear to break through, there is one feeling at the end of exam season that makes it all worth it. It reassures me that I know more than I think I do. That it’s okay to take “me-time” and naps if needed. That I am hard working. That I am meant to be at U of T.
It makes me feel like Superwoman. Like a sleep deprived Superwoman, who should probably exercise more and eat better in the midst of studying. But nonetheless, Superwoman who kicked her ass in gear and made it through exam season relatively unscathed.
— Victoria Banderob
Sports pundits often say that the playoffs are a new beginning; a new season with higher stakes, increased intensity, and a time when legends are born.
At the risk of sounding dramatic, that is how I personally imagine exam season — especially as an upper year student. All your hard work (or lack thereof) during the semester means little once exam time arrives. It’s much more likely that you’ll bomb an exam than pass with flying colours, and while a good mark on an exam can give you a boost, a bad one can make your precious pre-exam grade plummet.
Exam season is not just about studying; it is about strategic studying. With multiple exams in tow, students must decide when to start studying for their last exam, when as many as four final tests precede it. The time comes when you can only read two of the four readings you never did, and you may as well flip a coin to pick which one is most useful. One must also choose the ideal study spot. Will the steady hum of a coffee shop maximize your focus? Are the comforts of home too comfy? Should you leaf through your notes at Robarts, amongst thousands of panicked students with their law school aspirations on the line? Do you vary your study spot for variety and freshness, or opt for the same location for the sake of consistency and routine? The decisions you make can decide whether you spend your summer in Santa Monica or Sid Smith.
The exceptional thing about exam time is that, with so much certainty — you know when your exams are, and what the most part, what will be on them — there is a lot of room for surprises. Maybe you’ll catch a cold right before your most important exam, causing your tears to run into your snot, declaring that you Kant do it. Maybe you’ll discover a new TV show that demands binge watching, which will have you watch your GPA drop in a few weeks. Maybe you’ll get it together — but probably not — and park your phone for the duration of exam time, and dedicate your life to your studies, like all upstanding U of T students are meant to.
Every exam season is different. Sometimes you’re exhausted from a grueling semester, and, at others, you’re driven and ready to eat a thousand Scantrons for breakfast. I would have thought that, by now, as a seasoned undergrad, I would know how to tackle the most nerve wracking time of year. My plan of attack changes each December or April. The only thing that stays the same is the suspense that haunts me in the following month, waiting to see if I came out a legend or a loser.
— Jaren Kerr
Despite this being my fifth year of having to take fall semester exams, I still feel like I’m hit in the face with anxiety, and it’s ever-present companion insecurity, the moment the calendar flips over to December first.
This is not to say that stress is not already creeping up in the back of my mind throughout November (starting around midterm week). By the time the last week of classes comes around, my body is usually too exhausted to manage stressful situations any more, and my mind reacts with immediate panic far more easily than at other times during the year.
My main mechanism to handle anxiety late in the semester is to stay at home and only engage in relaxed activities, as well as to sleep as much as I humanly can. I often find, however, that isolating myself does nothing but leave me feeling left out. I see the events for parties, socials and exam destressors pass by my Facebook feed one by one, but the amount of energy I put into contemplating whether I can afford to leave the library and attend one is just a needless addition to my stress levels.
I think it’s important for myself, and those who can relate to this, to remind ourselves that this is all temporary, and that this experience of feeling isolated, no matter how overwhelming, is simply a consequence of an already exhausted mind.
Every fall, invasive stressy thoughts leave my brain alone the moment my last exam is done with just as quickly as they came.
I think that the reason exam period makes us all feel helpless, is largely because the prospect of being evaluated on our progress inevitably leads to thoughts about our future and where we’re headed.
The future, however, is something that’s so far away and out of our control that it is no surprise when these thoughts leave us feeling helpless and out of control.
Accepting these feelings and learning how to manage them is something that takes practice. And although every exam season demands that I put this effort in, every exam season I also get a little bit better at it.
— Nadezha Woinowsky-Krieger