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Is an essay crisis preventable?

Preventable yet ultimately inevitable: Phoebe Walls ponders why our essays always end in crisis.

Every evening at dinner many students stress over their uncompleted work. The term ‘essay crisis’ encapsulates the impending doom of an essay that is at risk of not being finished before the deadline. With hundreds of deadlines to juggle in a mere eight-week period, it’s only to be expected that we’ll feel the time pressure of churning out essays on time.

My tutor told us to treat our degree like a 9-5 job slotting our work in amongst those hours. I typically get up at 8, have breakfast in hall, the first Pret trip and aim to be at my desk by 9. By the time I’ve tackled the rigorous security of the Oxford-Single-Sign-On login, I start working. This routine does not always happen. If I’ve been out the night before the start time of work tends to be at least slightly postponed. Many people can have a lie in after a night out. I wake up to the sound of MCR students talking at my ground floor window or better still my neighbour’s Italian opera singing. Sometimes I wake up to the sound of bells and wonder if I’m still dreaming. I potter around Oxford contemplating my existential crisis and then return to the books. Speaking of books, as a humanities student the essay reading lists, however fascinating, are bound to leave anyone feeling overwhelmed. It sometimes feels like every single piece of literary criticism ever written has been uploaded onto canvas.

For me, part of the essay writing process is heading to the Taylorian library, a beautiful building but complete maze. Thousands of books are spread across different floors. I hover by a shelf for a long time before realising I’m in the wrong place. I’m out of breath after traipsing up staircases and even climbing a ladder. Then I have to avoid walking under it as the last thing I need is seven years bad luck. Collecting the books needed to understand my degree, invokes a crisis. Once I’m back in my room, with my impressive, back-breaking haul, I begin to chip away at the reading. I like to sit in my room’s maternal red rocking chair. The key to successful reading for an essay is to find those perfect quotes amongst mind boggling waffle.

After gathering sufficient handwritten notes, I begin to try to construct an argument in my mind. Essay questions often appear like riddles, I read them several times, and choose the least hideous one. I enjoy making a plan and seeing an argument come together. I’ve found the best essays are the ones I attempt to write in a single day. My argument is more coherent. Then there’s the task of working out how on earth to reference.

Reading, writing, and planning an essay is difficult to squeeze into one night. Many Oxonians manage this by pulling the infamous all-nighter. This prospect has never appealed to me. By six pm I’m eager to put away the library books and shut down my laptop. I’d rather spend my evening at rehearsal or with friends. I think the so-called essay crisis is preventable with time management and the acceptance that not every essay will be perfect. But you learn more from the Picasso painting analogies and constructive feedback.

Image credit: Glenn Carstens-Peters

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