I don’t think any of us need reminding about the intensity of Cambridge terms. As I reach the midway point of my last term as a fresher, I think I can safely say I’ve written more essays, attended more debates and drank more wine in my two terms here than I did during two years of Sixth Form. They say variety is the spice of life, and whilst we should all recognise our own privilege in attending one of the best academic institutions in the world, we shouldn’t forget what we’re offered outside our studies; be it sport, drama or simply dressing up on a Friday night and dancing away our sorrows. What the University gets right this term in the form of prelims and revision classes, it neglects in opportunities for well-earned breaks, creating an atmosphere of exam hysteria.
Planning the term with my friends on arrival back to Cambridge led unsurprisingly to highly-expectant thoughts of May Week, but this seemed as far as the term’s partying was going to go for some of them. ‘Let’s make it a good one guys, seeing as it will probably be our last night out in a while’, was a phrase I heard from many. This came as quite a shock to me, coming from the secondary school education system, throughout which my peers were more indifferent towards exams than they were stressed. Indeed I think this can be attributed to the ‘exam culture’ in this country prior to coming to University, where we are continually tested by a ‘tick-box’ system that drains away all opportunity for ingenuity and instead demands rote-learning of facts. I am thankful to Cambridge for revitalising my learning. I recognise that as students here we are able to use exams as a chance to explore our academic interests rather than regurgitate pre-prepared answers.
But such ingenuity comes at a price. I was wary when signing my ‘Memorandum of Understanding’ before matriculating that I was in for a tough ride, but I wasn’t expecting my college to become reminiscent of a prison six months in. Emails over the Easter holiday told us to observe the ‘Quiet Periods’ with the utmost respect and banned visitors and parties during such intervals. Surely ascribing the characteristics of a detention centre isn’t going to do anything positive to our exam performance? Naturally keeping noise to a minimum is sensible, but institutionalising it in such a way confirms our commitment to exam preparation only, at least in theory.
Thankfully, most people manage to find something to keep their mind focused on besides exams. But the absence of bops is felt by all. Fragmented nights out here and there hardly replace the euphoria of the whole college dancing together on a Friday night, and to me this is needed more than ever in Exam Term. They only happen fortnightly. They are not too disruptive. And they provide a pivotal release from exam preparation. The absence of bops epitomizes the unhealthy ethos central to this term, one where the ‘work hard, play hard’ balance which the University prides itself on is failing miserably at a time when we need it most. My view may indeed be skewed as a lowly first-year with my whole future not exactly resting on those all-important finals like my peers in third year, but I would attest that it would benefit everyone if we stopped stigmatising a trip to the bar or the dancefloor as a pathway to instant failure.