15 December 2017

Examination Blues!

May: we’re bound to get good weather this month! Why? Because a hat wave is predicted? Because I’ve caught a glimpse of the longrange weather forecast? Because I’m Mystic Meg’s niece? No! It’s exam month! Anybody doing exams can vouch for the fact that if there’s one time of the year you’re guaranteed sunshine it’s when you’re stuck at home with reams of notes highlighted in at least 10 psychedelic colours and a million post-it notes strategically placed around your room to remind you of some very important physics equation or vital character quote!

It’s always hateful doing exams, but it’s like adding insult to injury to be studying for them when everybody else in the world is basking in glorious sunshine!

Exams make you feel restricted – they are there looming up in front of you like a dark cloud you have to drive right into. You can’t make plans to do things: to go out with friends, to go away anywhere to enjoy yourself because everything you say is preempted by, ‘Well I can’t really because I have exams that week!’ or “Yeh, that would be nice but I’ll not be able to until my exams are over.’

Exam technique was always something that eluded me. I tried to be methodical with my revision and systematic when completing my paper but it wasn’t always easy! Take revision – it’s a hard thing really. You need to be alone, you need to be focused, you need to be quiet – none of these are my forte!

First I procrastinate – I will do anything before I actually start . . .tidy the toilet roll basket, de-hair a hairbrush, file my nails, count the number of hundreds and thousands in an average sized box! Then when I get started the isolation and silence kills me! I cannot have silence. If I do the sound of a clock ticking or a bird singing or even the sound of a car going past drives me nuts and breaks my ‘concentration’ completely.

When I was a student I used to study in my little room with the TV turned on, or the tape recorder turned up (now I’m really showing my age). This kept me from staring around the room and being distracted by ‘noise’. (Background music did not constitute noise). I remember one night, just before some fairly important exams, studying with a rather good love story on in the background. I couldn’t hear what was going on of course, but it looked good. By the end of it I found myself in tears – the boy in the story was dying! Just as the credits were rolling and I was trying to stop the tears my flatmate came in to check up on some ‘Philosophy of Education’ questions. She saw my tears and immediately gave me a huge hug, telling me sympathetically not to cry, she understood what exam pressure was like and it would all be over soon! She made me a mug of coffee and told me to hang in there! I just didn’t have the heart to tell her I was devastated because ‘Hans’, a German soldier in the film had been shot for falling in love with a young Jewish girl! Philosophy of Education was a mere trifle compared to that!

Then there’s the exam itself – generally I’m indecisive. Will I do essay 1, 4 and 6 or 2, 5 and 7? Maybe I should even do 1, 2 and 3 – too many choices, not enough time!

At school I was good at some subjects but in others my exam technique was atrocious. In Home Economics (or Domestic Science to you oldies out there) I was good at the questions you could use a bit of common sense with, like; “Should you hang a tea cloth over a gas oven?” but pathetic at others: “What weight of flour do you need if making a dozen fairy cakes?” (How would I know – I didn’t even believe in fairies?) A particular geography exam was a disaster: the result pitiful and the teacher’s response a total humiliation for me! I was last in class and “Is it any surprise?” he asked. “This young lady couldn’t get her own name right, let alone those of the continents!” I was devastated . . . in my panic I had even spelt my own name wrongly . . . on three sheets of file paper! ‘Rut Hugs’ became my nickname for the rest of my time in school! As a teacher now I get to witness exam panic from another angle: Mrs Hughes is frequently Mrs Huge or Mrs Hugs; Mrs Ravey is Ravi, Rovi, Revy and occasionally Gravey and as for Mr Sidor or Benade – they don’t stand a chance!

I think exams are just as stressful for parents as for students. The approach is different – we don’t need to ‘learn’ anything as such but we become the exam police. We ask rhetorical questions like, “Do you not have an exam tomorrow?” knowing fine well that our young Einsteins do indeed but are loitering with intent in front of the television. We play the ‘maybe-I’m-anidiot card’: “Oh, I thought you had your history tomorrow morning. Is it Thursday instead?” the inference being if you had your history tomorrow I’m sure you would be revising by now. We sometimes impart crucial advice like, “I really wish I’d listened in school. I could have done well. . . “ in an attempt to motivate those who see a pile of books and are losing the will to live! Why do we do this? The answer is simple. We are all grown up now and can see that education is important, that it has value and that if we have some qualifications under our belts we have choices. We know that our children may hate studying but to get the results that will allow them to move forward they have to put the leg work in. They may feel restricted by the process but the end goal will in effect allow them freedom to choose the path they want to go down – whatever that path may be.

As parents we can also motivate our children in the spiritual sphere. In my late teens I didn’t really want to know about God; I felt there were too many rules associated with Christianity and that having God in my life would just be too restrictive. My dad had often preached that real life, life that could be lived to the full, could only be found in Christ. Far from restricting our lives or making them dull and dreary, knowing Him and the truth contained within His word would set us free. John 8:31 instructs us to, “. . . continue in My word” and if we do we will “. . . know the truth” and then we are promised that, “the truth will make you free” (v 32). The study of God’s word, just like study for an exam will equip us for a life ahead and not only that but a life we can live to the full and experience great freedom with.

I may not be sitting any exams this year myself, but I will mark over a hundred belonging to people who have. The one (and only) perk in marking papers is that you do get the odd smile now and then. I haven’t come across anyone who has spelt their name incorrectly, but I’ve definitely marked a few clangers!

I’ve included a couple to make you smile as well.

Moses led the Hebrew slaves to the Red Sea, where they made unleavened bread which is bread without any ingredients.

Moses went up on Mount Cyanide to get the ten commandments. He dies before he ever reached Canada.

Solomon had three hundred wives and seven hundred porcupines.

Gravity was invented by Isaac Walton. It is chiefly noticeable in the autumn when the apples are falling off the trees.

Beethoven wrote music even though he was deaf. He was so deaf he wrote loud music.

Ruth Ravey