The coming of summer means but one thing to most Oxford undergraduates: exam season is under way. If the thought of writing several hours of nonsense about something you haven’t cared about since third week of Michaelmas isn’t the most thrilling prospect in your life, you might like some cinematic distraction. Alternatively, you might like to see your fate enacted on screen before you have to go through it yourself. To this cheery end, some of the best and worst exams on TV and film have been gathered in the paragraphs below.
First off comes, predictably, Exam. This 2009 British thriller was so dreadful that with any luck it has disappeared from public memory. In an alternate version of reality, eight candidates sit an employment assessment exam while an armed guard stands at the door. This all sounds like real Oxford exams, even if the dress is less quaint, until you find out that the paper is a mere eighty minutes long, and it doesn’t have any questions written on it. Instead of just rejoicing in this, the candidates make a lot of fuss, call each other dubious nicknames, and eventually work out that there really are no questions on the paper. In a witty twist, “Blonde” is the one to make this realisation and she ends up getting employed. If only real life were as simple as this.
Marginally more dreadful than Exam is Final Exam. Set in Lanier College, one of those American places that teaches useful technical courses rather than how to render Dickens into exquisite Ciceronian Latin, Final Exam sees a bunch of friends being killed off one by one at the end of Final Exam week, generally in the dark of night, always by a psychopath. “Some may pass the test… God help the rest,” went the catchphrase on the 1981 poster. It may have been a turd of a film, but at least its promotional jingle retains some relevance today.
But something jollier to watch might be more what’s needed at this grim time of the academic year. It might even help if the films were worth watching. Brideshead Revisited is always an efficient way of procrastinating for eleven hours. Although a most Oxonian of films, the amount of the 1981 TV series spent in Oxford is refreshingly little. For most of it, Charles Ryder just wanders around the eponymous Brideshead estate, goes on cruises and paints some pictures. It’s a lovely visualisation of what life might have been like if we had decided to leave before becoming finalists.
Lesser known, but equally nostalgia-ridden, is Summoned by Bells, the BBC’s film version of John Betjeman’s verse autobiography of the same name. Betjeman got sent down after failing the Pass School, a set of exams taken only by those who had no hope of getting an honours degree. Depressingly, pass degrees are long gone in most subjects, but you can relive the glory days in this obscure 1976 film.
If only finals essays were as easy as the one in The Breakfast Club, where a gaggle of unruly students are forced to sit down for eight hours and write about ‘who they think they are’. Still, if all else fails, why not make à la Lindsay Lohan in Freaky Friday and hook up with a hot invigilator? They’re bound to let you access the papers after the exam so you can copy everyone’s answers and scribble all over your enemy’s work. If you’re more into preventive measures, you could do worse than follow the example of the great Bart Simpson. In ‘Bart Gets an F’, our spiky-haired hero turns to prayer the night before the exam. Miraculously, a huge snowstorm hits Springfield the next day, allowing Bart an extra day of revision. His study technique of slapping himself around the head every time he gets distracted is definitely worth a try. Or if you’re a Harry Potter fan, you could always pin your hopes on Fred and George flying into the North Schools flinging fireworks everywhere, like in Order of the Phoenix. Oh, and don’t make the mistake of Will in The Inbetweeners. Stay off those energy drinks, unless you’re planning on bringing a spare pair of pants.