From gloomy to gleaming: A chronicle of Exam Week at Chalmers.


After a first intense study period at Chalmers, it became time for our learning to be tested: it was exam week.

On Monday, I realized that Gothenburg had already surpassed my country’s latest sunrise time for the whole year, and by 15 minutes too! I found it hard to get out of bed and wondered about a plan to convince my circadian rhythm that, yes; it was alright to wake up a few hours before sunrise. With some power of will and a little internal tantrum, I managed to prepare myself and headed to Chalmers.

The tram was full, but completely silent; people’s faces seemed ghostly and, as me, definitely not excited to be out. When stepping out of the tram’s warmth I was reminded of the cold and rainy weather, and I mourned for my clumsily lost umbrella. While walking towards the V building (where Civil Engineering lectures are held), a short-lived ray of hope appeared: a nice international student saw me getting soaked and offered a ride under his umbrella. I asked him about the dreaded exams and he told me had one in about 20 minutes. While wishing him luck I entered the building and went upstairs towards the computer labs.

In an otherwise happy and abundantly active building, I saw exam supervisors standing outside the classrooms, severely looking, and holding stacks of exam sheets in their hands. Students quietly, and might I say, horrified looking walked around or sat, as if waiting for their execution. The scenario repeated in every floor, and I couldn’t help thinking it was all very tenebrous: a dark, cold, rainy day, and some scary little papers waiting to decide your fate for the study period! With all the gloom and doom, I entered the computer lab and asked a couple of Swedish friends how they found the power of will to get up in dark mornings. Jokingly, one of them told me “You don’t”.

As the day before, I spent this whole day making a mental synthesis of all the things I had learned during the study period. I felt glad that the weather wasn’t very inviting to be out; I could get more studying done without distractions. My sleepiness amidst all the studying called for a break in which to have Fika. Big cups of coffee, cinnamon buns and friendly conversations are definite warriors against the gloominess of these sorts of days.  Free candy offered by a student association worked too.

Next day, another long, tedious study session awaited. The atmosphere of exam week felt more familiar now, certainly not as scary as the first day. I realized that hall supervisor’s faces were not as tenebrous as I had previously perceived, many of them were smiling, and one even sparked up conversation. She said that the exam in one of the rooms looked difficult, and that she was very focused in sending good energies to the students. This day I also discovered that Fika was being offered in the V building the whole week! As if solving a riddle, I followed the arrows pointing to a little room where free coffee, cookies and fruit were being offered, and a group of students comfortably sat in couches.

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Concluding this short break, I went back to the study group to continue the task of making a nice little knowledge package into my head. When realized I had been studying from (late) sunrise to (early) sunset, I decided to go home and pour some relaxation into my head too. This was necessary because my time had come now; next day was my dreaded, only exam for the period: (please read with a frightening inner voice) Engineering Geology.

After a badly rested night, with dreams of genies whispering exam tips into my ears, this time I didn’t really need the power of will in order to wake up. Expectations and anxiety had done the job for me. Nonetheless, the day had started alright: the weather forecast indicated it would be warmer than all the past days, and I had the small bliss of only having to wear one jacket this time. I took my time to arrive at Chalmers, enjoying a shy sun, the beautiful autumn leaves on the floor and the feeling of having enough knowledge to do well in the exam. Just an hour before the exam I had lunch, and chocolate, the unconditional friend in times of need, was offered. While I chewed it I realized that, even when delicious, this time it was not necessary: my usual nerves just before exams were not present this time. Afterwards I made sure that all the required things for the exam were in order: my approved calculator, personal number, identification and student union card. I decided to have a final relaxation moment, walking around Chalmers to get some fresh air and a glimpse of the trees, leaves on the floor and interesting rock outcrops (I couldn’t help it! Had been studying Geology for too long!).

When coming back, it was time to finally face it: the most expected exam. But actually, it was surprisingly pleasant to come into the building. Next to the stairs there was a student association offering big boxes of fruit and cookies so that the students didn’t get hungry during the 4 hour exams. They were also playing some very funky music and dancing along to lift our spirits.

Still amused, I arrived to the examination rooms, where a kind lady was assigned as our supervisor. She verified that our personal data was correct, and even chatted shortly with students. Just before the exam started, I looked behind me and saw a classmate quizzically and enthusiastically smiling into nothingness. I wondered what was up, and he told me it was a good way to get the endorphins working before examinations. As I turned around, I caught a glimpse of him laughing now, which of course made me laugh too.

When the time came, the cherry was put on the top of what was already a good day: the exam wasn’t as difficult as I feared. I had enough time to fill it calmly and without pressure, taking occasional bites of the apple and tangerine I had received downstairs. The process altogether was smooth, organized and standardized. The exams were anonymous, the instructions were clear, and the teacher made rounds to answer whatever doubts students might have had. After handing in the exam, I met my classmates, most of which also felt it was better than expected.

Craving some unwinding I went to a small bar called 2112 owned by a few members of a band called In Flames (take note if you’re a metal fan!). The bar was cozy and I had the opportunity of indulging into this weird custom I have observed in Sweden of eating hamburgers with cutlery. Afterwards I walked some, and even if it was starting to rain, I saw the most beautiful of the city: dark evening, rain, cobblestones and trees. I’m not sure if it was result of my eyes having been stuck to books and computers for days, but Gothenburg looked magical.

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As the rain became the heaviest I have experienced during these two months, I headed home and felt triumphant. The breeze and falling leaves were greeting me, and my first exam in Chalmers was successfully now behind me.