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Waking terror Everyone who has received his certificate of matriculation after passing his final examination at school complains of the persistence with which he is plagued by anxiety-dreams in which he has failed, or must go through his course again, etc. For the holder of a university degree this typical dream is replaced by another, which represents that he has not taken his doctor’s degree – to which he vainly objects, while still asleep, that he has already been practising for years, or is already a university lecturer or the senior partner of a firm of lawyers, and so on. Sigmund Freud The Interpretation of Dreams (1899)

Right: The Small Examination Hall, New Museums Site


n his masterwork on the sleeping mind, Dr Freud closes chapter five, The Material and Sources of Dreams, by citing three of the most typical scenarios – “dreams which almost everyone has dreamed in the same manner”. Appearing alongside “the embarrassment-dream of nakedness” and “dreams of the death of beloved persons” is “the examination-dream”. And judging from the response to Professor David Tong’s description of exam setting in CAM 70, anxiety dreams about exams are no less common now than they were at the turn of the 20th century. Adrian Williams (Peterhouse 1957) wrote: “More than 50 years have passed since I passed Maths Tripos Part II, and I continue to dream of the experience. In my dream I have never done any work and have not attended any of the lectures. For 50 years I have let down my College, my tutors, my University, my parents, my school, and most of all, myself.” He has not been alone. Alumni of all different ages, representing the whole range of Colleges and subjects, have dispatched letters to CAM about their own Tripos nightmares. Among them was Roger Smith (St Catharine’s 1957), who took his Classics Part II in 1960. He says: “In some of the dreams I’ve had, I don’t know what the set books were for the Tripos, or I know but haven’t read them. In the most terrifying dream, I turn over the exam paper at the given signal and the print is dancing in front of my eyes so I can’t read the questions.” Words William Ham Bevan Photograph David Stewart

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