Lament of a revision junkie

8th July 2005 at 01:00
He may have handed in his last AS paper, but Matthew Holehouse (pictured) is still biting his nails

I don't think I've ever been so tired. The day after my last AS exam, with the weather too grim to loaf outside, I'm watching daytime TV, drip-feeding on Jerry Springer and DVDs. Physically I'm fine, but it feels like I've taken liposuction to the brain. I don't want to read and I can barely hold a pen. I'm drained hollow inside.

The past nine months - the marathon of January modules, coursework and summer exams, weekends spent gorging on a diet of revision and past papers to a U2 soundtrack, bedroom floor knee-deep in textbooks - have been building up to this week, focusing on the decisive short hours in the exam hall with near Zen concentration.

As the pressure built I quit my Saturday job in Waterstone's to spend more time on revision, and I regretted not doing it earlier. It feels like sprinting along a tunnel that gets narrower and narrower, with voices behind you telling you to run faster, until the week before the paper you're struck by how much distance there is left to cover and there's barely enough space left to breathe.

As the invigilator takes in the last paper, you emerge into the daylight, but rather than celebration and relief, the breakout feels rather empty.

Just what do we do now? Results aren't out for another 10 weeks, and so the pressure to revise is replaced with the question of whether you've done enough. I made a pretty big mistake on a history essay, forgetting to refer to each source. It would have taken a total of about 10 words max, but with rubrics on history papers being what they are it will have cost me half the marks. I realised just as the paper was taken in, and found it hard to concentrate on the next exam. It's pretty frustrating to have revised so hard and then throw easy marks away. You can find yourself carrying out exam post mortems, doing sums on the back of exercise books to see how many marks you can afford to drop after coursework before you start to lose grades. Your powerlessness over the final grades is both a relief and a frustration - it's down to the whim of the examiner whether you pass or fail - and there's a certain sadness as the now redundant facts you've learnt religiously start to crumble and decay.

I know this lament is baseless. No one weeps over the confessions of a revision junkie. I chose to go into sixth form, and this obligation to get straight As is largely my own creation. I go to a good school and I've got good chances because of it, which is more than a lot of people can say. I'm lucky and I know it.

And I was saying much the same thing in the January modules. I hated having to revise over Christmas and I was pretty hostile to the idea of being examined with only three months' study since GCSEs. I still think it's a crazy way to run an education system and will create a generation of prematurely balding, over-stressed teenagers, but it has certainly made a tough exam season that much easier (I had to do one English text this summer instead of three).

When results day does arrive, I will probably (if everything goes to plan, which is looking precarious at the moment) be grateful for the madness, and maybe even have a perverse, rose-tinted affection for the great game. Not that I'll be admitting that next May.

Matthew Holehouse has just finished Year 12 at Harrogate grammar school.

His column will run throughout the summer

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