“Vacate your room, not your mind”- this is what I am told cheerily by my tutors at the end of every term as I prepare to move out of college accommodation and home for the vacation. The academic terms may be intense, but the fact that a six week vacation follows each of these would appear to make for a fairly good deal. Well, it would, if every vacation wasn’t immediately followed by formative exams in the first week back, specifically for the purpose of assessing our assimilation of the previous term’s material over the vacation. These exams, termed ‘collections’, are the bane of many an Oxford student.
One of the main issues with collections (and as other Oxford students will tell you; there are many) is that you rarely know what they will actually be set on. During my first ever set of collections, I actually managed to sit a collection in a subject I didn’t study- the product of a slight administrative error. This, combined with the fact that they don’t technically count towards anything, leads some students to adopt a very laissez faire attitude towards them (well at least until they have to meet with their tutors to receive their marks).
Waiting for the start of one of my collections last year, I overheard a conversation relating to the shortest amount of time anyone had spent in a chemistry collection before giving up and leaving the exam. It turns out the record is set at an impressive 30 seconds.
This contrasts with the very anxious first year students who haven’t yet become accustomed to the collection routine, and fear some catastrophic outcome from not getting at least a solid 2:1. This nervousness is hardly helped by the fact that we are required to wear our academic gowns to sit the exams, although there is no requirement to wear anything particularly smart underneath.
As such, a gown worn over pyjamas is a surprising popular combo for sitting collections (particularly for those that start at 9.30am).
I often think it’s a shame that the start of each new term, when you arrive revitalised and excited to see all your friends, is blighted by the need to revise for collections. But the fact that they’re sat by students in every subject and in every year makes for a supportive, and more chilled atmosphere.
This, together with the fact that the collections finish just a couple of hours before the evening of the first college bop of term makes them more bearable. It also means you can start pre-drinks for the evening’s frivolities the moment you step out of the exam room, if you are that way inclined.