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Exams in Oxford


Even typing the word ‘exams’ sends a shiver down my spine, with the thought of Prelims looming ominously in my memory. At Oxford, every student is required to sit exams, whether they be Preliminary (exams taken in the first year of your degree), MODs (Honour Moderations taken at the end of the first part of some degree courses), or Finals. However, as chilling as the thought is, there are many ways that your exam experience can actually be quite enjoyable, albeit in a subversive way! For example, revising for my Prelims last Trinity term allowed me to spend a lot of time sat in the sun on my college lawn, often with an ice-cream in one hand and a text in the other. I found that because I had spent so much time pouring over books in the library in order to write my essays, when it came to revision, I had most of the resources I needed already. It was more a case of going back to my notes and thinking about them more deeply and in different ways.

When it actually comes to taking the exams, the process is characteristically ‘typically Oxford’. Everyone has to wear the full regalia of their SubFusc, gowns and all. Seeing hundreds of students piling into Exam Schools, with their mortar boards acting as temporary pencil cases, is quite a sight. Wearing a carnation pinned to your gown is a really lovely Oxford tradition – a white flower for your first exam, pink flowers for the exams in-between, and a red flower for your last exam.

And finally, after studying fervently for weeks, when you’re finally finished, there is a tradition of ‘trashing’. Everyone, freed from the question papers, leaves the exam hall to be greeted by a shower of assorted materials. Highlights include: champagne (or a cheaper student alternative), glitter, powder paint, and shaving foam. Many students jump into one of Oxford’s rivers afterwards, washing away both the mess and the stress of exams. It is the messiest celebration I’ve ever seen, but also one of the most euphoric.

As tough as it seems at the time, and as scary as the prospect is, exams at Oxford are really a chance to show off what you know. There’s plenty of traditions in place to partake in that ensure a little bit of fun is to be had alongside the studying.

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