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All Souls: Part II

October 1, 2013

So.  It’s over.  I took:  The Test.

Dwarfing the SAT, sending the ACT to go cower in and corner, and putting the GRE to shame.  Yes, you’ve got it.  I am talking about the All Souls Exam at Oxford.  If you don’t know what I am talking about you should check out my previous post on the blog about deciding to take the Exam.   But in a nutshell: two days, 12 essays, 12 hours.

Well, after that previous post, I felt like you guys deserved some details about the test itself.  To get to the point, I won’t know how I did for about a month.  94 candidates sat the test, 5 will be interviewed, and 2 offered a fellow


ship.  So my odds aren’t looking great, but as I said before, that’s not really the point.  As far as I am concerned, I did it.  I didn’t let the numbers scare me away from going for something that would be really cool, and heck, I finished the whole exam.  Now that might sound easy, but when was the last time you had to write twelve essays in two days?!   Just finishing is its own accomplishment.

Now.  About the test itself.  Well, the first thing you should know is that it’s Oxford- so everything is by definition already ridiculous.   Like all Oxford exams, the All Souls test requires its candidates to wear their scholarly robes.  This is a tradition going back to the murky medieval background of the university.  We current students should just count ourselves lucky that all dinner conversation no longer has to be conducted exclusively in Latin, because well at Oxford things take a while to change.  Not only though are all people supposed to wear their black, knee length scholars gown, but they were also supposed to dress up.  The fellow leading the information session I attended the day before the exam implied that jeans simply would not do.  Now normally this would not be that much of a problem for me.  Conference dress- check.  However, in this instance I didn’t yet have many of my clothes, they were still in storage because I was just moving into a new place.  So, basically: I had a suitcase.  Ermm.  Well let’s just say it is a good thing that the actual test is anonymous…

So yes, there- decidedly underdressed- siting in the fancy dining hall of All Souls, and the exam begins.  Each day I wrote three essays in the morning, and three in the afternoon.  The morning questions were in your discipline (I sat the History paper), and the afternoon was general knowledge [e.g. ‘secure people dare’, do they?].  By the end of the first day, your hand hurts and you feel like your brain has been sent through the grinder and turned into oatmeal.  By the end of the second day, you feel like essays are the purpose of your life and that without the pen in your hand you no longer know how to function.

So.  Yeah.  It was intense.  But really- it was also fun.  I threw in some references to Bob Dylan, G. K. Chesterton, Abelard, Bob Dole… really all the cool people.  One essay I even concluded with a poem I drafted on the spot.   And in the end?  How did I do?  Probably okay–although one of those history essays may have left me stranded on the open seas with one oar and an ever nearing group of ravenous sharks.   But the main thing is that I survived.  And… you never know.

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