Exam hand cramp = bouncer on the forearm

By skepticlawyer

There is a reason why all these people are drinking... to kill the pain!I did my third exam today, and for the first time in my life experienced what I’ve only heard about before – hand cramp. Maybe it’s because Oxford exams are longer than other exams (three or three and a half hours, depending on subject). The longest written exam I’ve ever encountered in the past was two hours – and that was a few years ago, at ye olde Alma Mater (University of Qld). Oxford doesn’t have the concept of ‘perusal’, either. You just sit there and write solidly for the whole time.

Suffice to say the pain was excruciating. Remember those spiky metal dividers you used to get in old geometry sets? (They’ve probably been banned as a lethal weapon in these days of workplace health and safety). Well, it felt like someone had stuck one of the spikes through the back of my hand. I tried to write through it and nearly passed out. So I stopped. And sat there massaging my hand and cracking my fingers (and in the Examination Schools, which is cavernous at the best of times, this sounded like a gun going off).

The whole process reminded me of batsmen getting a quick one on a fleshy bit and needing the cricketer’s ‘magic spray’. Mate, I’d have gladly used the ‘magic spray’ – which hurts like Hell when you first put it on. I seriously thought about walking out of the exam, but in the end just sat there until the cramp finally (and very slowly) went away. Luckily I was slightly ahead of the clock, and already on the third question, so I’ve only written illiterate (and quite possibly unreadable) piffle for half of one question. Apparently if they can’t read your writing you get called in to interpret, and if it needs retyping, you have to cough for the rewrite. That’s a distinct possibility – the last three pages might as well have been written by a talented eight-year-old.

(There’s a reason all the people in the photo are drinking… to kill the pain!)

Any other exam war stories?


  1. CFQ
    Posted July 2, 2008 at 10:21 am | Permalink

    I’ve experienced hand cramp too – nasty. I think the worst was actually during the HSC, not at uni.I think it was the English and legal studies exams in the one day, so six essays, two 3-hour exams. Ended up with a stiff neck too.

    Probably the worst uni experience was not from the actual writing, but something that the exam room had been cleaned with, with made me sneeze almost constantly and resulted in much nose-blowing. Happily, I still did well, but it was actually kind of gross, not to mention distracting. After that, I went to exams armed with antihistamines 🙂

    Good luck with the rest of your exams, SL.

  2. John Greenfield
    Posted July 2, 2008 at 10:27 am | Permalink


    Are your masters courses assessed like Oxford’s undergrad courses – 100% final exam?

  3. Posted July 2, 2008 at 10:38 am | Permalink

    Yep, identical JG. I don’t know of any Oxford course that isn’t assessed on 100% finals.

  4. John Greenfield
    Posted July 2, 2008 at 10:53 am | Permalink


    What do (and Oxford undergrads) make of that system? There are stacks of Aussie uni courses that have no final exam at all!

  5. Jacques Chester
    Posted July 2, 2008 at 11:21 am | Permalink

    When I was a law student at CDU I stumped up the OT reports to prove I have stupid fingers and as a result, I’ve sat law exams with a laptop.

    I haven’t done it yet with UWA. Too disorganised and the system for special arrangements is a bit byzantine.

  6. saint
    Posted July 3, 2008 at 2:12 am | Permalink

    Never sat a 3 hour exam? I can’t think of any exam I’ve done under 3 hours. Mind you the thought of three hour essay exams only scares me these days because I hardly write anything by hand these days except for my signature. I may have forgotten how to write.

  7. Sinclair Davidson
    Posted July 3, 2008 at 9:34 am | Permalink

    I used to walk to uni, barefoot through the snow …

    Actually we did used to have exams in the university basket ball courts (called Hall 29). In winter it was freezing in there, so in addition to writers cramp (accounting exams were 4 hours long) we had the cold too. (One year I thought my calculator was going to freeze).

  8. pete m
    Posted July 3, 2008 at 10:54 am | Permalink

    No hand cramp, but did suffer mind cramp. I got halfway through an answer when
    I realised I was writing gibberish. Put a crossed line through it and started again, and did quite well.

    Note to self – engage brain, then write. Or speak.

  9. Posted July 3, 2008 at 5:53 pm | Permalink

    I dunno about 100% final years exams. I never did one of course. But assignments if the standard is high enough are more like real life. Juggling three or more things at once. Of course you do have to write papers as well don’t you.

    I kinda think oral exams are good. But I remember people who had to do that in school and flustered because so nervous. Maybe it’s not fair to them.

  10. Posted July 3, 2008 at 6:11 pm | Permalink

    I’ve always preferred exams to assignments, in that the pain is over rather more quickly… that said, I wasn’t too pleased on Tuesday when my hand was trying to detach itself from my arm.

    It actually blew up the next day – I didn’t realise how bad it was until another postgrad student asked me what I’d done to my hand. I’ve now bought one of those groovy pens that forces you to hold it properly – and several packets of nurofen.

  11. Nanu
    Posted July 3, 2008 at 6:21 pm | Permalink

    Does the painful realisation that you’ve spent too much time at the local pub all year, so much so that there is no chance of hand cramp count as a exam war story? 🙂

  12. Posted July 3, 2008 at 6:56 pm | Permalink

    There are good reasons for exams too. technical stuff for example. I did two majors. One was in modern media production so most of it was production work. But the exams were good. Stuff like: How do you shoot and condense a three hour tennis game into a 2.5 minute broadcast.

    Gets you work.

    One of the best things I ever wrote was an exam on the French revolution. I was the sort who trashed essays ASAP, but that was good I shoulda help on to it.

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