Exams – don’t you just love ‘em? I did. I was very bad at passing exams during my teen years but I scraped the requisite grades to get into university. Then I realised what the examiners wanted, organised myself to remember what was wanted in each subject, and dutifully delivered it in a high-pressure ejection chamber known as an examination hall over a period of 2-3 hours.
I don’t want to take away from the happiness of those who’ve scored high in the ‘A’ levels recently: it’s not often pure joy enters your life, and it’s a delight to watch all that youthfulness hopping around on TV hugging each other and grinning so hard their faces are in danger of splitting. Or sometimes even crying for joy. But exams don’t measure intelligence, which involves creativity, originality, a delight in the subject. Exams indicate that you’re a highly-organised plodder.
George Bernard Shaw warned sixth-formers that they must never tell the examiner what they think in an examination – they must tell the examiner what the examiner thinks. Examiners are usually men and women who learnt about their subject twenty, thirty years ago; and given that knowledge changes and is added to with alarming speed in modern times, you’d better supply some dated information in that examination hall, not what your young mind is thinking or aware of. If you do, you’ll upset the examiner.
I know. I’ve been an examinee and an examiner in my time, and both are ignoble positions to be in. I’ve also been an invigilator, patrolling the exam hall to make sure that nobody is engaged in any form of co-operation with anyone else during the two/three-hour high-pressure release of information. It’s hard to think of any comparison other than a prison, with the warder moving past cell after cell, taking a quick glance to see no hanky-panky is happening. As that well-known educational philosopher Paul Simon sang: “When I think of all the crap I learnt in high school/It’s a wonder I can think at all”. In time to come, I’m convinced, people will look back on the exam system and it’ll seem as weird and ridiculous as sending children up chimneys and covering the legs of pianos in case they excited lascivious thoughts.
So maith sibh – well done to all the young people who hit the highs when the exam marks came out the other day. But a word of consolation to those who hit the middle mark or the bottom: you haven’t really been tested at all. Life will do that.