The Race and the Pressure Cooker

Unfortunately, I seem to be starting this post in much the same way as I did the last one: with an apology for not posting anything recently. This has been a particularly long hiatus, largely due to the time pressure of submitting university applications. This post will, in part, touch upon some of the things I’ve observed over the last month-and-a-half.

In 2009, a film called 3 Idiots was released in India. It’s about three young men who begin life at a top engineering college with various habits and a penchant for mischief at times, and charts their journey through the four years of their degree and beyond. One of the quotes from early on in the film seems rather appropriate at this time: ‘Life is a race’. At the time, I didn’t really take it very seriously, but I now see how appropriate it is.

Admissions tests are a vital part of the procedure of applying to university, as they are one of the many criteria considered by UK universities in their holistic approach of offering places to candidates. The vast majority are referred to only by their acronyms, which has led to many people worrying about a HAT (History Aptitude Test) despite not actually regularly wearing one…

Anyway, that’s not the point. Every day, without fail, I hear discussions about average scores in admissions tests, question types, and how much revision everyone is doing. What is clear is that anything that could possibly be construed as a failure is unacceptable, although I must point out here that my view is slightly warped by the fact that I attend one of the largest independent schools in the country. The admissions tests in themselves are a race: students are currently under pressure, mainly from themselves, to get as high a mark as possible to gain any advantage they can over their fellows.

I must stress at this point that I do not think that this is a bad thing at all.There is no shame in pushing oneself to achieve highly. In fact, we must acknowledge that the whole university applications process is a race, and has been so from the start of AS exams in May, since AS grades too are a vital part of anyone’s application. School life for the last six months has been like a pressure cooker for most of us, as we put all of our efforts into getting into the best universities possible. And again, there is absolutely nothing wrong with this in my opinion; I’ve been doing exactly the same thing.

However, we are human beings, not pieces of food. We must not be cooked like lentils are when we come into high-pressure situations. Somehow, we must do something to release the pressure. We are constantly told that we need to be organised, that we need to manage our time. How does one actually do this though? I have some answers, which I shall now share, but I do not expect for a moment that everyone will follow them.

1. You need to remain a fully-functioning human being, to coin Mr. Peter Woodcock’s term. Sleep deprivation has never been, and as far as I can tell, never will be a good thing. I would also advise against working through lunch breaks and so eschewing food: it will only cause problems.

2. My previous point really leads onto this one. You must prioritise and plan what you need to do at certain times: obviously, even the most efficient and organised person cannot plan for every eventuality, but it is certainly worth writing down what you want to achieve on each day in terms of not only schoolwork, but extra-curricular commitments, wider reading,and preparation for a university application or admissions test.

3. Relaxation is important. In my opinion, everyone should take a small chunk out of their day to do something that they enjoy which also doesn’t cause stress; it doesn’t need to be relevant to a preferred degree course. If you don’t, you really will feel as if you’re in a pressure cooker, because the stress and pressure build up with no release at all. From experience, I know that the consequences of this are not desirable at all,

Here end my thoughts on how to survive the pre-university pressure cooker. As I mentioned previously, I certainly do not expect everyone to follow the points that I’ve made above, but while we must continue to run fast to avoid being overtaken in the race of life, and whilst we remain in high-pressured environments, I think these are the basic solutions.


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