The fear of failure doesn’t lessen with age, and when you’ve never sat an Oxford exam before or even received a mark for the work you’ve done at university, the terror certainly increases.
‘Collections’ are just another Oxford term for ‘Mock Exams’, something that most students have experienced since taking their GCSEs. And just like in Year 11, Oxford Collections are a way to track your progress and see what you need to do to achieve the grade you want in Prelims (end of year exams).
Despite being told numerous times – by my tutor and other students – that Collections weren’t a massive deal, I was still incredibly nervous to do well. The nature of getting into Oxford or of at least applying in the first place means that you are an ambitious character, and are well used to success, so naturally you want to get the highest mark possible. But with no past essays to analyse and no precedent to work with, you just kind of have to trust your instincts (in a very Jedi-like way) and do your best.
As it turns out, Collections were actually a huge anti-climax. I sat mine in my college dining-hall, which may sound like an intimidating atmosphere but is actually a lot less terrifying than sitting at individual exam desks. I did have a magnificent portrait of the Queen looking down on me, but I was sitting at the benches with the rest of my class and so we could exchange knowing glances when the excruciating hand cramp got a bit too much. Bizarrely we had to sign in and collect our own exam papers, a completely new experience from the exams I’d previously sat at school, but it only contributed to the general atmosphere of informality that can ultimately set you at ease.
All in all, I think everyone was surprised by the casual attitudes towards the exams. Don’t get me wrong – they were fairly difficult – but they were entirely achievable and manageable, which hopefully bodes well for the summer!
The main message would be to not worry about them too much, something I’d definitely tell my past self! Oxford is a lot less intimidating than your brain imagines.
Collections are simply exams that take place at the start of each term, usually on Friday and / or Saturday of 0th week. They're more like mock exams than anything else, meaning that they are more for you to get a feel of taking papers and marking your own progress, and they provide something more concrete or immediate for you to revise towards than end of year exams, which can be useful. Being like mock exams means that they can also be pretty chill!
At my college, Christ Church, collections take place for most people in the Hall. If you have extra time, need a laptop, or anything else, your collections take place in a different room - one with plug sockets! You're arranged in Hall in subjects by table / part of a table. Classics, which covers my subject, sat at High Table last time (which felt a bit weird!) and our tutors told us where to sit when we got there. We had to wear normal clothes, but with gowns, and needed to take in watches / some other sort of time-keeping device, and pens, of course. For First Year, I've had two collections per term: one in the morning, and one in the afternoon - one was for my Classical Archaeology & Ancient History Core Paper for that term, and the other for my Beginner's Greek language paper.