Back when I was younger, I would get pulled aside by my teachers and they would tell me to make sure that I studied and kept up with what I was doing, because being female and non-white, it would be hard for me to get where I wanted. At the time, it felt like they were putting a lot of pressure on me. I mean, I was under the age of 12, I was reasonably smart and I kind of thought I knew everything. Going through school, I tended to have a sort of half-an-half approach.
Subjects I enjoyed came easy to me and thus required less of my time and subjects I struggled with, I got by somehow. I was probably more determined in studying for them. Despite that I can’t ever remember studying as hard for those tests exams as I do now on my university exams. Or my previous level of education exams. I suffer from what I believe is called exam anxiety. The first year this started I was 17, and I was coming quite a tough emotional year. I failed everything except for the one topic I actually liked – English. That probably should have been a lesson to me. My other courses were the core sciences and I was not a fan of them. I scored well enough in previous exams to be permitted to study these core subjects but looking back, I was never a huge fan of science back then. Somehow though, my parents got into their heads that I should become a doctor – fast forward six years, and all three of us are regretting it now – and I was essentially forced into doing subjects I didn’t care for. Of course as you get older, the course contents grow and I struggled. It was an alien feeling really. I maintained a ‘Oh, I’ll have time to study before the exam’ mentality’ and surprise, surprise, I had no time. I failed miserably for the first time in my life. I went from being that girl who cried because of a B to being that girl who failed.
A lot of those problems were to do with where I was studying. I hated it. And at the time, I didn’t think it was a good excuse and I berated myself for it but somehow managed to repeat the year and scrape through somehow. I ended up dropping English, because my mother was concerned about how I’d get on to medical school without Chemistry. My father desperately wanted me to pursue maths, as if going to the school of his choosing wasn’t enough. My mother often claims that I was rebelling against my father but if I was rebelling, it would be against both of them. I wasn’t, however, I was just severely unhappy. I had no friends, no one to confide in and I just felt miserable. Studying was all I seemed to do and it didn’t seem to sink in to my head. I often did reasonably well on class tests but those were a fluke. In the end I failed once again.
Somehow, I managed to progress into university. Now I know that all universities are essentially businesses but the place I got into doesn’t get enough credit for what it does. It’s a statistically bad university but I actually enjoyed myself there. Maybe their content was less, or the exams were easier. I can’t attest to that, but I felt almost ashamed and at ease at the same time. Studying was kind of fun again and I didn’t work myself to the bone to pass. I knew my stuff. I was there for two years and I didn’t fail either of them.
Going back to the statistically bad part and the first line of this post, I knew I would have to leave this safe haven if I actually wanted to be taken seriously – especially in my degree choice where academia is often where graduates end up. I applied to a Top 30 university, to one slightly above where I was and to a Top 10 university. Choices were limited because I was unwilling to move but in hindsight, I wish I had been. I ended up at the Top 30 institute and it was a big adjustment. Overall, it is a nice place but…call it intuition by I always feel so down in places where I know I don’t belong. To make things worse, the transfer process was quite tough, and I was essentially left to my own devices. The teaching was sparse and assignments were clumped together. They claim that it prepares students for the real world but actually, it’s just cruel. No company would give someone three or four overlapping deadlines, not if they want excellent work.
Anyway, I failed the year. I ended up having eight exams and the last five were basically back to back. I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t think, I went into meltdown and failed the last five. I’m currently in the middle of repeating the year and I just feel so awful. I’m doing exams and I’m panicking about what will happen if I don’t make it. I know from experience doesn’t mean that you have an advantage. I don’t know what questions will come up. I still had to re-learn all of the course content and I have to deal with anxiety and fear on top of that. At the same time, I am constantly comparing myself to others. It’s things like so and so works and somehow manages to pass whereas I struggle just to take things in and I don’t even have a job. I am not the only one repeating the year with these issues and that does make me feel better but ultimately, I wish I was more confident about these exams. I wish I could just remember things easily so that I don’t panic. I have no idea what I’ll do if things work out so I will believe that they will. They will work out.
I didn’t just fail once, I failed three times (albeit at different stages of life), and this is the second time I’m repeating a year. Some people might call me stupid and lazy and I might even be inclined to agree with them but I do actually study. I panic and study, which arguably is not a good combination. I try. And short of being in a room with someone, I will never judge someone who doesn’t do well in school because I’ve been at both ends of the spectrum.
I just try to tell myself that it’s a strong person that picks themselves up and tries again after failure. I know that I’m not stupid. I know that what I scribble in two hours is not a reflection of who I am or how intelligent I am.
I know that I won’t fail. A number is a number. A letter is a letter. But I’m not a failure. I’m a human being with flaws just like everyone else. I’m trying.
That’s all I can do.