Exams and why we give up when we get to university

Illustration by Monica Burns

It is 3.35am, I have an exam in six hours and I am still procrastinating. I’m thinking back to this time three whole years ago when I sat my mock exams for my Scottish Highers. I was in bed by ten and I had studied for weeks on end prior to exams that actually had no standing or contribution to my grades, never mind my getting a place at university.


I’ve spent the past hour or so reflecting on why for many of us there is such a stark contrast between such extreme studiousness in high school and a complete flop in motivation when we progress. Is it going out more? The discovery of alcohol? Inherent laziness? How did we get here from cracking open books upon books upon books to get into university, to actually being here and barely having the constitution to click through some lecture slides? Personally, I don’t think the above possibilities are causes, but rather symptoms of a much larger issue at hand.


If you analyze the circumstances of the situation, back in high school we had a goal to work towards; getting here (or Oxbridge, if you’re one of those rejects as cited in the Edinburgh Tab). We have a direction, a purpose and a goal. Years of labour and determination were fuelled by a passion to better ourselves for this shining goal. I think the reason we flake out so much when we get there is because at university we are greeted by disillusionment. It isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. I’m not saying university isn’t enjoyable and I’m not saying it’s a waste of time. If either of these things were true, I would have left long before now. I love my course and it’s going to get me a job and I will have my nice car and my house by the age of 40, I’m almost certain of it.


The disillusionment I’m referring to however is a loss of a sense of self. A sense of direction. A sense of purpose. It is all a bit deflating when you have ground yourself to the bone to get to a good university, and then you get there and the haunting question looms over you: “Oh shit, what’s next?” There is no clear cut answer. And that is why I think we become like this. Perhaps it is my naïve sub honours mind that hasn’t yet lived in the real world. But right now, I have no sense of direction. As terrifying a thought that reality is, I’m neither scared nor ashamed to admit that fact. I have no idea what I want to do when I leave St Andrews. I have no idea where I’m going to go. What kind of person I will be. The only pseudo-goal I have in mind is having a decent degree classification and hoping for the best.


I can’t speak for everyone, but I believe it is this uncertainty that leads us to rebel. We have no idea what the future has in store for us. Many of us don’t know where we will end up, what we will be earning and above all, if we will be content. That’s why we go out and get drunk so much. That’s why we skip lectures and piss about with our friends. That’s why we leave the revision and the essay to the final hours with the end-game in sight. We are compelled to live in the moment. To have fun. To enjoy ourselves and take life as it comes because when we leave this funny little town and the chips inevitably fall where they may, there’s no guarantee we are going to like what is in store.


Most of us will end up in graduate schemes. Taking what we can get because we either don’t know where our passions truly lie, or we are too scared and perceive ourselves as too restricted to take the leap of faith to pursue them. University is supposedly the best years of your life. And I guess when you think about it in my inherently pessimistic way, it makes sense why people say that.


So to all those in the same boat I say herald a new hedonism. Take the bull by the horns. Go out and do something stupid. Enjoy yourself. Do it while you are young, reckless and irresponsible enough to get away with it. Do it in the time when having fun is worth-while. Do it before the uncertain future becomes the sell-out present.


Its 3.58am. I’m still procrastinating. At least now I can kind of justify it.


  1. “I’ve spent the past hour or so reflecting on why for many of us there is such a stark contrast between such extreme studiousness in high school and a complete flop in motivation when we progress.”

    Not the way I remember the 1950s-60s – grammar school was a breeze; university more of a grind.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.