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30. June 2018 Jakub Příbaň

Lecturers: The Trolls of Cambridge University

Exam term at Cambridge is simultaneously the most relaxed and the most dramatic of all. Although some subjects, Computer and Natural Sciences included, still have lectures, they are only for the first 4 weeks as opposed to the full 8. The social pressures of going clubbing every available night, or else simply doing something interesting with one’s time are dropped, as everyone realises they actually need to start revising.

However this is when a new game begins: the ruthless struggle of securing a spot in the library. Some adopt the strategy of rising at 5am to “reserve” a spot by hogging an entire table with 30 tonnes of assorted books and folders, while they go get breakfast or a bit of extra sleep. Of course, nothing stops those determined enough to simply move it to the side, and around 9am is where this bloodshed truly begins. Now, but a short bathroom break can cost one a study place, and the only effective method of survival is to have allies, willing to risk everything for retaining the group’s space.

When it ultimately comes to the exams themselves, they are unlike any sort of highschool examinations done previously, be it IB, A leves or maturita. I’ll leave it to others to discuss whether exams are really the best form of assessing academic performance, because regardless of whether or not this is true, they have been working for the past 800 years in Cambridge, so why on earth should we change anything now? The main difference to highschool exams is probably that of marking and grade boundaries. Most Cambridge students would have strived for marks higher than 80% or 90% for their offer requirements, but now, many would be eternally grateful for barely scraping a 50%. This can get quite demotivating, as the numbers are really not in your favour, but it is such at most universities.

With stress levels running high and pressure on to get good results, one would think that the teaching staff would be as supportive as possible. But alas, no, lecturers have their own work to be getting on with teaching just a minor part of their lives and they really make sure you’re aware of that. However this does not stop them having fun during exam term, and that is why I consider them the real trolls of Cambridge. One of the most memorable ones is our Operating Systems lecturer, who showed up to invigilate paper 2 in a Gandalf t-shirt, sporting the quote “You shall not pass!”, after only lecturing a quarter of the material due to strikes earlier this year. Another legendary man was our Physics lecturer, who decided to give a little pep talk at the end of the last lecture (2 weeks before the exam). This inspirational speech is summarised by: don’t revise because if you don’t know the material yet, there’s no hope for you; don’t stress because there’s nothing you can do now; and I won’t wish you luck because luck isn’t sufficient to pass Physics.

Despite the reputation Cambridge has, the teaching quality is definitely not responsible for it. Cambridge has a reputation, because it has a reputation; only the best candidates are selected, which means the university can get away with employing mediocre lecturers, because they know the students will do well anyway. That being said, there is something to promoting more independent study, as we can’t always rely on a fantastic guide when learning later in life. At any rate, after my first year here, I still stand by what I said in my first blog entry: I could not have chosen a better university to study Computer Science.

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