This article first appeared in The Oxford Student on 13 November 2015.
If you, like me, are blessed and cursed enough to be studying an essay-based subject, you too will have to face the evils of coursework sooner or later. It can seem worrying at first, and indeed at last, and in the middle – seemingly combining the worst aspects of both exams and weekly tutorial essays, a monstrous entity which swallows its victims whole for weeks at a time, before finally regurgitating them in the Oxford Exam Schools, blinking hazily in the fresh sunlight, having spent the last week staying up till three in the morning and never seeing the sun. Not that I’m being melodramatic or anything.
The question of how to conduct oneself when dealing with such a stressful and important event in one’s academic life can be a tricky one to navigate. Certainly I have been a little rude to my fellow students in the past as I have retreated into the depths of the college library, slowly sinking into the mire of rage, self-loathing and The Language, Society and Power Reader, which unfortunately does not describe a combined linguistics and bodybuilding course. But such an approach is not only impolite, but also profoundly unproductive.
The first piece of advice to take on board is to hit the ground running. Do not do what I did, which was to dither about for approximately a week before starting, in what was quite possibly the stupidest game of chicken ever played. I also recommend maintaining your normal standards of hygiene and personal care; the ten minutes you lose by showering and having a shave are more than made up for by not having to endure some rather uncomfortable stares as you put in your twelve-hour shifts in the depths of the Gladstone Link.
Above all, and I know this might sound crazy coming from me, don’t panic. It is only coursework, after all, and getting stressed out is beneficial to no-one. Just keep calm, act rationally, and take things at your own pace. And whatever you do, don’t forget to buy an envelope to hand your essay in. The Oxford exam board do not take matters of stationary lightly.