Are Uni Exams Harder Than High School?

words by Year13 | photo by @year13

Every time I complained about how hard Year 12 was, all I would hear from teachers and older friends was to ‘suck it up,’ as they detailed the pain that would be uni if I decided to pursue further study.

‘Imagine Year 12 on steroids,’ one of my mates said to me in high school.

In high school there’s an overwhelming burden placed on you to do well. You spend a large portion of your time studying instead of hanging out with mates. You toss and turn at night having yet another existential crisis episode. Most of your concerns stem from how much importance is placed on those final exams, and, because of this, it can be tough to imagine that it could actually get worse when you head to uni.

The reality is different for a lot of people; the strain of a degree depends on what sort of person you are (as someone who sucks at studying, it was just as painful as any other exam I’d ever sat) and what your degree is based around (if you’re going into the Arts faculty you may be able to ditch exams altogether). That being said, there’s a few things to consider when weighing up which is more difficult.

1. You’re paying for the units you enrol in

Whether you’re paying up front or allowing your HECS debt to culminate to a deadly amount, it may be too expensive to risk failure. Your degree is coming out of your pocket and this could be a motivating factor for some, or an added stressor for others.

When I walk into an exam hall, all I can think about is how much money I’ve spent on the particular unit. It’s not a good mindset going into an exam and it certainly adds an intense extra layer of pressure.

2. Less time means more content

Most universities have two semesters that range from 10 to 13 weeks each. Breaking it down, you roughly spend half of the year in university. That’s really not a lot of time to shift through a variety of content and digest all the info you’re taught.

In high school, you spend a lot more time on a particular topic, making it (slightly) easier to get an understanding of what you’re being taught. Come exam time you tend to feel at least a little prepared, even if you open up the exam booklet and swear your teacher never taught you that in class (Mrs. Baxter who taught Ancient History, I’m lookin’ at you).

In university, you’re given a bit more of crash course of the unit you’re studying; mainly because it’s up to you to be self-motivated and actually learn the content. Going into an exam knowing you’ve missed three weeks of readings and a tonne of lectures means it’s super easy to feel overwhelmed.

3. Your degree may prioritise exams

Depending on the degree you choose to study, you might be lucky enough to ditch exams altogether.  🙌🙌🙌

On the other hand, some degrees will place a tonne more weight on the exams, sometimes more than 80%.

Most universities will have the unit’s assessment criteria online. Usually, it will detail the variety of assessments and their weighting. Have a quick look at this before you commit to an elective unit and see what you’re getting yourself into.

If you’re someone that doesn’t thrive under the pressures of standardised testing well, tread lightly. It can suck if you work hard all semester and buckle when it comes to exams, so suss out whether you can scrape together marks in the mid semester essay that’ll push you over the line if you flunk an exam.

4. Lack of access to past papers

In high school, past papers are the usual prep for any exams. But in uni, it can be a lot hard to find them (some uni’s don’t allow access to past papers at all).

You can guess all you want on what will be tested. You might be right and sail through the exam. You also run the risk of being completely wrong. I was and spent three hours wondering how I managed to mess up so badly.

5. The exam itself

A standard exam in high school will have a variety of questions: multiple choice, short answers and an extended response.

When you get to uni, some exams may strictly test multiple choice. Sucks if you’re indecisive, right? The same can be said for extended response. You might have an entire booklet dedicated to applying formulas or working out equations, which isn’t ideal if you were hoping to grab a few marks by guessing your way through multiple choice.

The only upside is you will get told about the structure of the exam beforehand, so there is time (albeit, limited) to prepare yourself for what’s ahead.

The verdict

I guess the ultimate verdict is that regardless of whether you’re doing uni or high school tests, exams suck. Sorry guys.