Exams, exams, ha! the radio is talking about exams and it has spun me back to finals at college. In a single week nine three hour exams - five consecutive mornings and four afternoons in a trot, suffering six hours a day crammed with bogglingly complex questions and non-stop writing.
Course-work and three essays per week, didn’t count - everything depended on the exams; three years study could be wasted should you fail. It was considered shameful to repeat and few did. Your career, your future, hung on the result, no wonder everyone was stressed to breaking point. The previous year, watching students freak out, I realised preparation was key and so I spent the last Christmas holidays transcribing the many topics in each of the nine subject areas into key words and set these into mind-maps, one idea-web per page of a pocket book.
This gem went everywhere with me as I gradually imprinted the interlinked concepts on my mind. By the 1st of April, I was ready for the June exams, and so the next two months were spent pleasurably reading around each topic. Rather than being stressed and anxious, I actually enjoyed the tortuous exams. After each, I’d walk the river banks reading Zen poetry as my stressed colleagues lay on the grass assiduously cramming facts for the next exam.
A couple of months later, I was called back to Oxford for a ‘Viva’. Afterwards, one of the examiners secretly handed me a file containing photocopies of all my exam papers, saying he’d not heard of this being done before, explaining my papers ought not be shredded but used. Being too Zen for my own good, I never did turn them into a text book, but used some of them when teaching ‘A’ Level casses.
The revision programme worked so well that when preparing my ‘A’, ‘O’ and ‘CSE’ exam groups at an ex-grammar school, I lead my pupils through the same method. I made it fun and they realised that sacrificing a few months of their long lives would reap huge benefits. Out of the 350 teenagers I taught each year, only a handful didn’t bother, the rest did better than they or anyone expected because they believed in the simple system. My various classes’ results were consistently good, not that glowing statistics bothered me, my concerned was with each individual pupil’s future.
My subject was Geography and I encouraged those teenagers to see how valuable our complex world, histories and cultures are and I hope they grew up treasuring our fragile planet. By now some will be in influential positions so let’s hope they are fighting for The Planet.