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17 painful lessons in exam hell from Hogwarts students

Practical wizarding world wisdom to help you through an arduous time.

Umbridge in the exam hall
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

If you’re about to sit exams, or are awaiting results, you’re no doubt experiencing a wide array of emotions. Fear. Anxiety. Trepidation. The thrilling prospect that, one way or the other, it’ll all be over soon.

We had a look back through the books to find 17 examples of exam-season awfulness, to help you remember you’re not alone. Because however bad things get, remember Harry Potter and his friends went through it all too.

While simultaneously battling the forces of darkness.

(Just saying.)

They tend to arrive just as the weather’s perking up

We’ve all been Ron Weasley, gazing longingly out of the library window at a clear, forget-me-not blue sky. Those ‘enticing wafts of summer’ will just have to wait, alas…

The turrets and towers of Hogwarts Castle.
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

There’s always someone better prepared than you

No doubt you’re an excellent student and solid bookworm (you’re a Harry Potter fan, after all). But there will always be someone able to out-Hermione you. That goes for revision, like when Miss Granger distracted Ron and Harry by ‘reciting the twelve uses of dragon’s blood’. Or, after an exam, when she sickeningly said: ‘That was far easier than I thought it would be.’

They mess with your sleeping patterns

Harry Potter frequently struggled to get proper bedrest during exam time. Again, yes, he was also pitting his wits against a genocidal Dark wizard hellbent on his grisly murder. But still. When he could get to sleep, he even dreamed about exams. And as a wise man once said, if you worry, you suffer twice.

Some teachers revel in dropping cryptic hints

When Professor Trelawney theatrically declared that ‘the fates’ had revealed to her that ‘the Orb’ would probably come up on the Divination exam, Hermione quite rightly snorted. If you, as a teacher, are setting the exam questions either give us a proper clue (like good old Professor Flitwick) or give it a rest.

Flitwick sitting at the teachers table
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Being nervous is (kind of) a good thing

‘I never feel you perform as well in exams if you’re not a bit nervous,’ says Hermione. Sadly, it’s true. While nerves can scupper your chances in a practical exam, they should also, quite rightly, scare you into opening a textbook beforehand.

They can drive you a bit mad

Hufflepuff’s Hannah Abbott had an exam-stress-related breakdown in Herbology class. Fortunately Madam Pomfrey was on hand with a Calming Draught. Assuming you’ll likely struggle to lay your hands on said potion, might we suggest yoga or herbal tea?

They eat into your holidays

You don’t have time off. The weekend is not a weekend as you understand it, and the Easter break (in particular) at Hogwarts is a time to do more work, not less.

They catch up on you

With ten weeks to go until her first-year exams, canny Hermione was already revising hard. Ron suggested that ten weeks was plenty of time. Hermione, perhaps a little histrionically, argued: ‘That’s not ages, that’s like a second to Nicolas Flamel.’ She’s right, you know. Get to work.

Arbitrary grading

At least Muggle students never have to wrap their heads around the bizarre O.W.Ls grading system. ‘O’ is the highest grade (for ‘outstanding’), followed by ‘E’ (for ‘Exceeds Expectations’), and so on down to ‘T’ for Troll. However, impenetrable Muggle concepts such as ‘standardisation’ and ‘weighting’ mean a good score is different for different students on the same exam on different years. Yeah.

It’s easy to kid yourself they don’t matter…

Whether it’s the Weasley twins’ relaxed attitude to their N.E.W.T.s, or Professor Trelawney declaring ‘…passes or failures are (not) of the remotest importance when it comes to the sacred art of divination’, there are plenty of folk out there who will encourage you to sack off revision and go sit in the sunshine.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

…but exams absolutely do matter

Harry was quite positive he wanted to become an Auror. Professor McGonagall made sure he was well aware of what that entailed – not only a solid range of subjects at N.E.W.T level, but a general across-the-board improvement in his O.W.L. grades.

Even if you’re not sure what you want to do eventually, good grades open doors.

There aren’t enough hours in the day

You’ll find that, charmingly, most exams are scheduled within a couple of weeks of each other. Once you get to the business end of term, there simply isn’t time to do things the way you’d like. So, assuming you don’t have access to a Time-Turner like Hermione Granger did, make sure you have the next best thing: a detailed revision planner.

The unbearable weight of other people’s expectations

Professor McGonagall said she’d help Harry pass his exams and become an Auror… ‘if it is the last thing I do’. Often the hardest thing about getting a less-than-ideal grade is having to tell the people who invested time in you. So work hard and it won’t happen.

McGonagall with hand on Harry's Shoulder from the Prisoner of Azakaban.
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

The gloating of people who don’t have exams

Fred Weasley found great joy in the prospect of young Ron’s teachers holding his classmate’s ‘noses so hard to that grindstone they’ll be rubbed raw’ in the run-up to exams. Tune such people out... and be sure to remember this disgraceful behaviour next time they have something difficult to prepare for.

The dreaded practical test

Always more nerve-wracking, in particular with Snape breathing down the necks of Hogwarts students who struggle (ironically) to remember how to make the Forgetfulness Potion.

That feeling of walking out the exam hall

When you’re ‘limp and ashen-faced, comparing results and bemoaning the difficulty of the tasks (you) had been set’. At least you’re all in it together.

The agonising wait for results

So the exam is finally out the way. Thus begins the fresh hell of new uncertainty. If you’re like Hermione, you’ll enjoy talking through the questions afterwards. If you’re like Ron, you’ll probably just flop down somewhere and never speak of it ever again. You’ve earned it.

The Weasley family owl, Errol
© JKR/Pottermore Ltd. ™ Warner Bros.