Saturday, June 10, 2006


Candidate's Log, June 2 - Day 14

Awoke 0600 hrs - somewhat later than usual on a morning exam day. Today's paper is International Relations in the Era of the Cold War, my favourite option, and I am seized with unusual feeling that I know as much as I can know about this subject. Morning reading is thus somewhat lethargic, but I nevertheless go to breakfast quite confident. As I walk down to exam schools with Sarah, she voices a feeling that I share completely: this paper is nerve-wracking not because it's difficult, but rather because it isn't - and we both therefore need to do well in it.
We filter into the room, and the paper, as ever, sits there on our desks, tantalising us with the reality that we cannot just turn it over. One of the last people to enter the room is Irritating Library Man. No, I think, he can't possibly be in two of my option papers. There are fifty-nine PPE papers that candidates have chosen to do, and each person has eight: to be in two of my option papers is just plain bad manners. That, however, is clearly his forte, so I ought not to have expected anything less. I hold my breath as he passes my desk, but relax slightly as he throws himself into the seat one row behind me, to my right. If I adjust my chair properly, I realise, I can't see him. This definitely helps, but perhaps not as much as it should do: every time a loud sigh emanates from his direction, a blonde girl two rows to the right and one in front starts and glares backwards at him. While exceptionally gratifying - no-one else yesterday seemed to have been bothered by him - this does have the effect of making him harder to ignore.
It is easier to ignore him, however, since I actually know some of the answers on this paper. I trot out my standard essay on Reagan and Gorbachev, which I am fairly pleased with, but I find myself highly conscious of the fact that I am not managing to reference any of the literature. The next question, on origins, gives me pause for thought: instead of asking about the mentalities of the two superpowers, where I feel strongest, it asks whether events in Germany were more important than events elsewhere. Frowning, and slightly uncomfortable, I set about arguing that events in Germany were no less important than those outside, but that it was decisions in Washington and Moscow that were really important. I then face a quandary for my final question: do I choose a hopelessly open-ended question on Israel and Palestine, for which I know the facts but would be quite hard to structure properly? Or a nice question on the Warsaw Pact, which was the back-up option that I didn't want to do, but is the perfect question on the topic? I end up choosing the Warsaw Pact, and halfway through get a definite sense that I had made the wrong decision. No matter: would probably have felt the same way had I chosen the other question.
End the paper feeling that it certainly did not go as well as it could have done. Sarah feels the same way: "Where was the question on the end of the cold war?", she asks forlornly: they had used the archaic phrase "second cold war" to mean tensions in the early 80s, and she had not been sure enough about the definition to answer it. Knowing her, she probably did much better than me nonetheless. At least it's over: we head home and I get going with the West European Politics, which has had some exceptionally tough past papers.

Friday's Mood: grimly determined.

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