Tag: Sixth Form

The Day Before The Exam

(you better lose yourself in the critics / they wrote shit that you flicked / through without too much thought)

Tomorrow is my first university exam, and so will be inevitably accompanied by a flight of devils blasting GWAR, an announcement by the Tory government that they’re taxing the inhalation of oxygen by anyone without a double-barrelled middle name, and this pair of twats from my own distant past. At the moment, it’ll be considered a blessing if UCL graciously provide us with a clock with which to check the time as we write our essays.

These days, directly before exams, are my least favourite of the year. With an exam looming, it’s so easy to fall into a trap of self-doubt, that you don’t know literally all of the Bible by heart so you’re going to fail miserably, or frenzied cramming to make up for what you wrongly perceive to be a lax prior month of revision. In reality, now is perhaps the worst time to abandon a months-entrenched, carefully constructed plan because there’s no time to make up for it.

Today essentially epitomises the last month of revision: some excitement for being able to write about things you’re interested in, some fear for the consequences of said writing, some isolation that everyone seems to be much better-prepared than you, some comradeship that you’re all being screwed over together by the same exams, professors and timetables. And that’s all today is: another day that seems like so much more; a day that only has earth-shattering significance if you decide that it does, and let that decision affect your day.

So best wishes to people sitting exams specifically tomorrow, those who are in the thick of them already, and those who still have a few days before their personal apocalypse rains down upon them; because there are three certainties in life: death, taxes, and getting royally frakked over by grade boundaries and mark schemes, so let’s all suffer together.



Despite my inner perfectionist wanting me to continue blogging for a while longer – having racked up an astonishing 89 views in just three days this week, from places as varied as Canada and South Africa – my outer exam-sitter makes the valid point that it would be downright moronic of me to prioritise meaninglessly quantified views on WordPress over maximising my revision time: I’m buggering off because I have exams to sit in a few weeks, thank you very much.

If you want to appeal to a higher power on my behalf – anyone from God to the Pagan concept of Fortune will be appreciated – my exams run from the 2nd to the 16th of June, and include an English paper, a History paper, two Geography papers, and three GCSE Ancient History papers, a subject that was interesting at first, but has now basically doubled the amount of work I have to do this summer.

Similarly, I’m grateful for any livestock you may sacrifice on my behalf, even though my Ancient History course covers the Greeks, not the sacrifice-happy Celts. I would like to ask that such animals are ceremonially executed in a humane way, and that their organs are donated to local schools to help educate children about the surprising accuracy and naturality of reading sheep entrails.

Furthermore, any outbursts of violence at schools across the country, to distract or incapacitate pupils, lowering their marks to push the grade boundaries down for me, would be cool, but I would like to stress that such acts of, basically, terrorism, must have their grade boundary-skewing intentions obvious: I want gunmen in balaclavas to shout ‘330 UMS for an A!’ from the roofs of burning schools, before unveiling a banner that reads ‘No A2 90% for an A*!’, if you’d be so kind.

For those of you of a scientific disposition, attempts to interfere with the nature of reality could be helpful, provided you create the sort of society that rewards inconsistent evaluation of arguments in Historical essays with more marks, rather than the kind of world in which humans breathe treacle, and so all die instantly from the archaic Oxygen-heavy nature of our atmosphere.

But I’d like to stress that there must be no cheating in these exams; screwing with the space-time continuum is fine, but anyone who tries to slip me a piece of paper with answers on it in invisible ink, while encouraging me to carry a UV pen into the exams, will be reported to the nearest invigilator for removal from the exam, or execution upon the Altar of the Conditional Offer to please the Great Gods ‘3-A Offer’ and ‘Affordable Student Housing’.

On a serious note, I’ll see you again on the 25th of June, my eighteen birthday, for another run of daily posts, that’ll continue until I get bored again. Take care.


(couldn’t think of a subtitle today. OH WAIT I JUST DID)

In the wake of Tottenham (finally) sacking their manager Tim Sherwood, I’ve been thinking about upheaval – a radical, short-term change – in general and whether it’s a good thing; obviously, the individual cases are important, but on the whole, is it better to stick with a mediocre solution, on the grounds that its consistency will be a benefit, or have an upheaval, and take the risk that a new system or idea will be better than the old one, because anything must be better than that old crap, right?

Timescales are important too; if there is a fast-approaching goal you have to hit, a change will probably be better because you need an improvement right now, while a farther-off goal would probably warrant consistency in the hope that the existing system can be adapted over time, rather than ripping it out and starting again.

But regardless of the individual examples, it seems that public perception has played a role in deciding between upheaval and smaller change, basically because the former is far more exciting. In sport, no-one wants to hear that a player will slowly be working on their game and adapting to a new role within a team over a five-month off-season, they want to hear that the team is spending £30 million on a new player who can fill that new role right now; in politics, people don’t want to hear a long-term plan to improve employment figures through a series of grassroots measures to slowly change the perception of employment in society, they want a manifesto that says ‘We’ll cut employment in half within six months!’.

And often, the longer-term developments can be more beneficial; a player who works on their game will be a more rounded athlete as a result, so they could fit into more tactical systems of different managers and different clubs, and society as a whole would probably benefit if people started doing things out of their own free will and growing self-awareness rather than being spoon-fed help from a local authority.

So there is a contrast between that which is effective, because it addresses fundamental problems, and that which we want to be effective, because frankly, having the opinion that anything worth doing will take a bloody long time is kinda discouraging; we want to live in a world where quick fixes are actually effective. And this isn’t out of an inherent laziness to humanity, it’s simple logic: if improvements can be made using a 2-hour program, or a 2-year program, the former will be favourable, as our gaols will be completed faster, giving more time for relaxation, or even more improvements!

This is especially important for me as I get closer to exams, as I’ve seen some revision techniques that involve watching summaries of texts on YouTube or searching through the ‘chemistry’ hashtag on Tumblr, but these are often ineffective, as a broader re-evaluation of one’s working methods, and often exam technique, is often more helpful; we’re now sadly in the situation where exams are literally underway, and so these sorts of structural changes are likely to be too long-term to be effective right now.

I guess it comes back to my original query, that it depends on the timescale you’re working with: it would be nice to revise through past papers and seminar sessions with your peers, but if you’ve got a History exam three weeks today, it would probably be a better idea to shove your nose into a book for a few weeks.

Even More Geographical Pickup Lines!

(the sequel no-one’s been waiting for!)

– Baby, you can whirl my hygrometer all night.

– Are you the Basque separatist Eta movement, and am I a 27-year-old Spanish Local Councillor, because you’ve kidnapped my heart.

– I treat my partners how I treat my air temperature studies: with probing three times a day and lots of moaning.

– How do you know I’m attracted to you? My Geographical Compass rose.

– Let’s make like the Millennium Development Goals and have eight climaxes by next year.

– Are you a young family living on the rural-urban fringe, and am I the city centre where the parents work, because you can commute back into me every day.

– Babe, you’re just like the Trafford Centre in Manchester: there are a thousand free spots to get into you from.

– I’ve had eyes on you for longer than Israeli has monitored the Gaza Strip.

– Did you fall from Heaven, because there’s low surface pressure, creating a pressure gradient in which air is drawn towards the surface of the Earth.

– You’re more beautiful than Newington Green after it had been gentrified.

– When we’re in bed, you’re more active than the Kurdish Workers Party when they killed 30,000 villagers.

– I’ve got a stronger hold on you than the London Development Agency on land in Stratford, after they used compulsory purchase orders to buy up 83% of the area.

– You’re more attractive than brownfield sites are to urban developers.

– My love for you is genuine; it has a 99.9% statistical significance!

– I need you more than St Lucia needs its banana exports.

I’m not even going to apologise for the quality of some of these. I’ve had a long weekend.

The Unknown Of Exams

(and I mean beyond the fact that nobody actually knows what the frak the 1957 Rapacki Plan was)

This isn’t really a concern for you I-do-maths-and-science-and-the-rest-of-my-life-will-consist-largely-of-rote-learning-facts-regardless-of-what-I-do-with-them people, whose A-levels will probably include appropriate amounts of mind-crushing fact-leaning, but for us essay-writing people, the subjectivity of written essays is occasionally terrifying: what if the As I get from my teacher are more because of their optimistic marking, and the same essay would be awarded a C by an examiner?

I’ve experienced this in the past, with a fun, but increasingly distant, History teacher awarding an ‘excellent’ essay of mine, with no criticisms on it, a 28/40 (and giving a friend of mine an unrelatedly unhelpful ‘do better by improving’ comment). When our class got a new teacher, our marks mysteriously increased to a minimum of 36/40 within about seven seconds of walking into the new classroom.

And this isn’t a go at individual teachers; mark schemes the world over consist of constructively specific grade boundaries: the difference between an A*- and an A-grade essay is that the former displays ‘perceptive’ analysis, while the latter is merely ‘excellent’; it seems that the only difference between grades is the sophistication, rather than the ‘good’ or ‘bad’ meaning, of adjectives we use to describe them.

This also makes it bloody difficult to mark my own work: I’ll give myself a 26/30 in English, only to be bitch-slapped with an 18 from a teacher for the same piece, and my ensuing harsh self-marking of a 17-deserving essay will crush my morale, only for that same teacher to confuse me by giving it a 28. Sigh.

I think the quality of my school is also harmful here: a frequent criticism of my old essays was that I was doing the A* stuff, but not the C stuff, which reflects the fact that my teachers probably assume I know the basic plot of King Lear, and so focus only on the analytical points. This can be dangerous, as any factual errors – like my erroneous idea that it was Kent, not Edgar, that married Cordelia in Naham Tate’s rewrite of the play – are not picked up on until four seconds before the exam, and any time you learn something about a play as you’re writing about it is probably indicative of an impending crap essay.

Furthermore, the external exams will be marked by external examiners, who won’t assume I know what I’m talking about just because I got 80% on my last end-of-topic test; I’d argue they’re more likely to pick up on holes in knowledge or inconsistencies in arguments than teachers who are accustomed to 90% of their students constructing perfectly evidenced and explained arguments every time.

Annoyingly, there aren’t solutions to this, beyond ensuring that every marker of a humanities paper is an expert in that field, a painfully difficult prospect given the disparity in numbers of people who know anything about Shakespeare, and pretentious teenagers who think that disagreeing with a critic shows them to be masters of literature, rather than robots that can only hit mark schemes with free-will depriving regularity.

And another solution, to give specific content guidance in mark schemes so that any moron with a GCSE in General Studies can mark an A-level essay, is problematic in that it limits creativity, suggesting there are objectively right and wrong ways to respond to a text, which kinda opposes the very idea of literature as both a means of expressing one’s ideas, and a means of responding to the ideas of others.

I’m going to fear these exams, not because I won’t revise, or because I can’t remember the moralising of Edgar in his guise as Poor Tom, but because essays, as an art form, always have the potential to be comprehensively and fundamentally flawed, far easier than a maths question could be, a risk I guess fits the boom-or-bust nature of actually writing for a living.

So here’s to fear, of the stupidly important and potentially-life defining exams I’m going to take before I’m even old enough to buy booze. Cheers!

One Down

(the US joined the G7 in 1974 in response to the 1973 OPEC Crisis)

I’m now halfway through my exam-based Day of Doom™, having finished an English exam this morning (it went pretty well, picked a question no-one else did because talking about women is way too mainstream), and waiting for a History one in literally an hour (oh God, an hour is not a long period of time), and I’m feeling expectedly unintelligent right now; unlike Jacobean dramas, real exam-induced madness does not give great insight into the human condition of our society, it just makes us tired and grouchy.

And I have evidence for this: after the English exam, we had an English lesson, in which the amount of work done was approximately equal in size, and appropriately in quality, to four millilitres of ink flicked at a page in a particularly unconstructive manner.

Of course, I’m not making this any easier on myself; with 56 minutes to go, I’m not letting my brain recover, revising the end of the Cold War (the US joined the G7 in 1974 in response to the 1973 OPEC Crisis), or even just having lunch to ensure that I’m not going into the exam having not eaten in seven hours. Nope, I’m writing a blog post about how I shouldn’t be writing a blog post, so if I get a C in this afternoon’s exam, blame this blog. And also you, for reading it; an unread post is like the ignored ravings of a madman, but viewers add legitimacy to a post, showing that I have prioritised entertaining individuals in Kenya over a mock exam that is a key indicator of my ultimate exam success or failure. So thanks for that.

I’m also fluctuating between ill-begotten overconfidence and suicide-inducing feelings of unpreparedness; every time I stop writing this, my mind flicks to a historical statistic (the US joined the G7 in 1974 in response to the 1973 OPEC Crisis) that gives me a bit of confidence, only for the singularity and repetition of that fact (the US joined the G7 in 1974 in response to the 1973 OPEC Crisis) to screw me over again: I know about the OPEC Crisis, why can’t I come up with other figures?

I think my fear is because the outcome of lot of essay-exams are based on your performance in the exam itself; GCSE Geography was a ‘rote-learn-a-thousand-facts-to-get-an-A*-fest’ (the fastest-flowing part of a river’s cross-section is a thalweg) but A2 History is about using and manipulating those figures: my knowledge of OPEC will be worthless if I can’t fit it into a coherent argument. And coherency is not my strong point right now, as the repetition of italicised brackets, indicative of my erratic subconscious, indicates; Hell, I can’t even be original at this point, which is worrying when it comes to constructing an interesting and creative argument – the italicised brackets are stolen from Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series for God’s sake.

And I just spent half an hour getting distracted by The Guardian and talking about that English exam with people who didn’t do the same exam as me, so we should theoretically have nothing to talk about. I’m done for now – I’ll go have lunch and revise for a bit. Coherency might resume tomorrow, I’m not making any promises.

(the US joined the G7 in 1974 in response to the 1973 OPEC Crisis)

Hardcore Self-Loathing Revision Techniques!

(this is how I’d pitch the importance of revision to teenage boys)

Rather than seeing revision as the sort of menial task forced upon you by the epitome of discipline and unrelatability that is a teacher, you could make it so much less daunting by casting it as a testosterone-fuelled endurance test, to see which of you and your friends can use the most soul-crushing tactics imaginable to obtain those all-important capital letters on a bit of paper; for the record, I think this is how students at Eton prove their ‘manliness’.

1) Tattoo important definitions to the insides of your eyelids, you every time you want to rest and take a break, you’ll be reminded of the difference between tentative disadvantages, and partial disadvantages.

2) Wear a t-shirt emblazoned with your essay’s topic sentences to a book shop; if the intellectual badasses in there can’t understand your argument from your shirt alone, your essay is now humiliatingly bad.

3) To help you revise characters for an English essay, write out revision notes for each character, and drink a large vessel of alcohol for each individual, so that whenever you think of takin a drink, you’re reminded that Lear’s downfall really is, fundamentally, his own fault. Extra points are awarded if you drink yourself to unconsciousness, at which point you’ll start revising the definitions tattooed to your closed-over eyelids.

4) When you’re doing bicep curls, count them not in numbers, but in the scenes of a play or chapters of a book you’re studying, and with each curl, outline the plot and key themes of that section of the text. If you can do this for Middlemarch, you’re a bigger man than I am.

5) Play the Maths Drinking Game: every time you read a question and say ‘What in the Hell does this mean?’, take a drink. Then, don’t leave until you complete that paper; if you can scrape through a paper drunk, you can ace it sober.

6) Make notes on a wall using an assault rifle to make bullet-holes in the shapes of letters; they way, you’ll see the notes every time you go past the wall, and will be reminded of the subject.

7) A day or so after finishing a timed essay at home, and before giving it into your teacher to mark, type it up; this will force you to re-read the essay in its entirety, and you’ll feel so embarrassed that you thought that was a credible idea that you’ll work even harder next time.

8) Complete a practice paper using a pen you know will run out soon, forcing you to either give up the paper halfway, or power through by cutting your finger open and writing in blood, in scenes that may resemble the private school version of the Saw movies.

9) For every mark you are below your target grade, remove one digit, starting with the little toe on your weaker foot, and leading up the the thumb on your stronger hand; you’ll be more encouraged to not suck as this process continues, as you’ll be increasingly out of digits to take the final exam with.

10) Put a Pope’s hat on a bear and challenge it to a fistfight; your resulting anger at and fear of anything Pope-shaped will help you understand the extent of Monticelso’s rage and hypocrisy in act three of The White Devil.

11) Write a key concept or idea on each item of your clothing, then stand by a cold river and scatter them to the winds; as a result, you will have to swim through ice water to find your clothes, and so you will associate hope and security with revision topics, rather than fear of the unknown.

12) Learn to play the solo from Through The Fire and Flames on guitar, and for every mark you miss your target grade by, cut off a string, and try to play the solo with the remaining strings. This will get difficult to the extent of impossibility should you screw up too many times.

13) Find another bear, and anger it by poking it with a stick. Then try to calm it down by rhyming at it in Middle English; its inevitable ripping of you from limb to limb will reinforce the idea of the ultimate weakness, seen in Chaucer’s The Wife of Bath, in the difference between her linguistic desire for maistrie, and the reality of her evenly-matched fight with Janekyn.

14) Go skydiving strapped to an instructor who insists that their parachute has broken, and you’ll die. Then, get the instructor to shout formulae at you, until you’re two feet from the ground, and they pull the chute, which was really working fine the whole time, saving you. Your mind will be forever etched with the idea that the area of a triangle is half base x height.

15) Guilt yourself into revising more by writing another blog post about school, as opposed to working for school.