Illustration by Sarah Tseung

At the beginning of term, Oxfess was full of confessions from anxious freshers fretting over sitting their first set of collections. Older students left words of wisdom, or debated the importance of collections in the unnecessarily heated comments section.

What does the word ‘collections’ even mean? The term is just another example of the terminology that can seem like a secret language to those outside of the Oxford bubble. As a friend aptly put it, “collections are a chance to collect your intellect”. These tests put pressure on students to spend precious, well-needed time studying. The holiday doesn’t always feel like a time of rest and relaxation. There’s revision to be done, not to mention the never-ending reading list that seems to contain every piece of literary criticism ever written, as well as countless poems. Even when you’re not working, social media is a constant reminder to study. I was bombarded with BeReals of tired-looking students hunched in front of their laptops. Even on Christmas Day, people seemed to be buried in their books. This left me with a feeling of guilt, even though I knew I needed time off to prevent burnout and to recharge my batteries after a hectic term.

There are ways to manage anxiety surrounding collections. I find it helpful to go to the worst-case scenario: here this would be failing collections horribly. You won’t be kicked out for failing collections but might need to have a conversation with your tutor, which can be daunting but it’s certainly not the end of the world. You would learn a lot about what you need to work on, helping you in the long-run.  

The week before term starts is undeniably stressful. Once again BeReal can be too real for my own liking. While I’m watching soaps, the Lincoln library is packed with eager students before 0th week is even in full swing. Emails from tutors begin to come in thick and fast. In the past, I’ve found out about a collection with three days’ notice, or have been given an essay on a book we hadn’t studied. Yet these were the most rewarding collections, teaching me resilience and how to cope with unexpected questions.

On an optimistic note, you learn a lot from these tests. They act as a motivation to revise and consolidate the work from the previous term. Without collections some students would be led into temptation and just cram for the final exam, a risky and less efficient technique than learning in manageable chunks as you go.

For all the worried freshers, I’d like to reassure you that everyone is in the same boat. Older students also worry about these tests. Sitting in a cold library before you’ve unpacked the suitcase you lugged across the country is a jarring experience. They are not the be-all and end-all, but rather a stepping stone and a chance to practise for the real exam. So don’t be too hard on yourself if they don’t go as well as you’d hoped. After all, one of my tutors once told me my writing can be like a Picasso painting– pure chaos, but something beautiful will eventually emerge.