Every year it's the same thing. I walk into the examination hall, usually a large gymnasium, and I'm hit by my a wave of stress pheromones emitted by hundreds of freaked out examinees. The group terror is palpable. Most disturbing of all, I set the paper so I am responsible for the fact that these people are all suffering.

Here are some of the incidents that have affected my thinking on exams.

  • A girl who felt faint

    I had to help her out of the exam hall. This happens quite often so I know what to do (you have to get the blood flowing to the brain usually by lowering the person's head). After the faintness subsided, she starting crying, really intensely. She sobbed on my shoulder for about twenty minutes. She told me that her best friend had killed herself the day before. Eventually she calmed down, perhaps there were no more tears left, and she managed to go back into the gym to complete her paper.

  • The guy who was not gay

    He spent two hours writing I AM NOT GAY in his answer book. Of course at the time no-one realized. He looked like he was industriously working through the questions but when I looked at the paper later, I wondered what his story was.

  • Collecting scripts from the clinic

    Every year there are some people who get so stressed out by the exams that they have to be hospitalised. This varies from an acute psychiatric episode to suicidal thoughts, or just people anxious enough to need medical supervision while they take their tests. When I go up to the university clinic to get the solutions of these students I can't help thinking that, however indirectly, I bear some responsibility for their predicament.

When I was a student I enjoyed the single-combat of exams, the challenge, but having seen things from the other side of the desk, I increasingly feel that they constitute a cruel and unusual punishment.

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