I’m not very academic and I struggle with exams. I have the mind of a sieve when put in a room and forced to remember facts, figures, dates and specific points. Give me space and time and I can waffle on for hours, eventually getting to my point and traversing some alternate theories and concepts (or as my A Level history teacher put it, bullshitting). Course work and essays were my preferred method of studying – less pressure and more time to listen to music as I worked. I loved the essay planning process and getting the draft versions out and checked, making the edits and re-writing up to a dozen times until it was as good as it was ever going to be. I would hand in the pages, neatly stacked and stapled and then wait until they were handed back to us, with the red pen mark on the top right hand corner. I would quiver, hoping that my best was good enough and that maybe this time, I would get that A+ and not a B+ as was my norm. Most of the time, it was a B+ but as I got older, the A’s started creeping in.
I was never a model pupil though, despite my best efforts and much to my mother’s chagrin. I just got distracted too easily. I wasn’t a naughty child at school. I never skipped school or flunked out of any specific classes but I just wasn’t a straight A kid. I liked a laugh too much – and still do. I look music lessons and learnt to play the flute – again, with limited success. My music teacher persuaded me to take my music exams, despite the terrible attempts to sight read and my fear of performing in front of people. I passed those I took, but never anything higher than the standard pass mark; no merit and certainly no distinctions. It didn’t help that I was seldom known to practice properly but I honestly believe that even with practice, those elusive higher grades wouldn’t have come any easier.
So it was no surprise that when it came to exams later on at uni, I was equally poor. It was school but worse. Not only was I unsupervised, but I was living about 300 miles from home, I’d discovered alcohol, partying, late nights and even later mornings and lectures that weren’t the most scintillating (international relations). The seminars were a perfect place to bullshit but as was the norm, in the exams I froze. One less than brilliant performance saw me flipping through the exam paper, not understanding a word of any of the questions and feeling sick to my stomach. I waited until the exact moment where students were allowed out and legged it in the direction of the pub. I need to say here, I’m not proud of this. I’m not proud of failing my second year and having to retake it. Nor am I proud of failing my FIRST year exams (and having to retake them before I was allowed to start my first second year). But this is the blog, so I’ll be honest about such things.
I ended up dropping out of uni. It’s not for everyone and I was more interested in working (and drinking). Coupled with the fact that my degree was a Social Science, that it would have been fit for nothing in terms of a career and I really didn’t enjoy it, dropping out was the best thing for me at the time. Working was what I was more suited to. Less exams, more talking, more fun and less stress. As I stumbled through jobs, the exam fear was allowed to ebb away. I was sent on training courses where the marks were given in open book tests and practical knowledge. My lack of a completed degree never stood in my way of getting a job and before long I was able to stand up and speak to people without my knees shaking and my voice wobbling.
Fast forward several years and I had changed jobs and with it came new challenges and skills – skills that required qualifications and those were reliant on passing exams. The horror! A week-long residential course culminated in a 2 hour closed book exam. Although it was multiple choice, thus discounting the need to write long essay style answers that required dates and other facts, it was an exam none the less. In exam conditions, under exam rules. As a class, we had spent the week learning together, getting each other through the various class room exercises, studying in the evenings after dinner (with several glasses of red to aid brain function…tannins are good for you – honest). We all needed and wanted to pass this exam, our jobs required it. When we got the results, it was the old worry that resurfaced. Was it good enough? Was it a pass? And if it was a pass, was it a pass with Merit or Distinction? For me, it was a pass. A good, solid pass that showed I knew my subject and the hours of studying had been worth it, but nothing more.
With my job currently, I was asked to attend a training course in the summer in London. The subject? Environmental Management. A dry subject to say the least, but one I am interested in and one that has resonance in my role as an FM. It was a chance to learn a bit more, have a chat with colleagues and develop my skills. It also included the dreaded exam and the not so dreaded coursework. The exam wasn’t bad in the end, although I left afterwards not really sure I’d done enough to pass, despite my best efforts. The coursework ended up being a bit of a mad dash, having left it to the last-minute. However, it was in to the examiner in the nick of time and then, I waited. And waited. And waited a bit more. An email was sent, along with another. 6 long months after taking the exam and handing in the course work, I finally had the email I was waiting for. I had passed the course. But there was more (you are absolutely forgiven if you have fallen asleep by now – it isn’t the most interesting story). I had passed…with a DISTINCTION! All those times I’d hoped to be good enough and finally I was.
I’ll admit I was a bit excited by this – to the point that the neighbouring department thought I’d just been promoted or found out I was getting a pay rise. The end point to this long-winded ramble is that I got my certificate in the post today. There was a small squeak when I opened it. My very first distinction. With any luck, it won’t be my last.