Could our re­porters pass a GCSE?

THIS week thou­sands of stu­dents up and down the coun­try will be sit­ting their GCSE and A-level ex­am­i­na­tions. It is al­ways a stress­ful time and there is con­jec­ture over how use­ful the ex­am­i­na­tions are, par­tic­u­larly with high num­bers of well-qual­i­fied young

The Peterborough Evening Telegraph - - Front Page -

MAY 1995. Livin’ Joy are num­ber 1 in the charts with Dreamer. Black­burn Rovers are bask­ing in the joy of a Premier League Ti­tle.

And some­where in the Fens lurks a spotty, sweaty lit­tle fea­tures-writer-of-the-fu­ture work­ing to­wards his GCSES.

The 16-year-old John Baker didn’t have math­e­mat­ics web­sites or re­vi­sion sheets on an ipad. He just had his text­books and wits to rely on, and the odd pack of late night Bom­bay mix.

Ours was the year which boy­cotted the SATS, so for us the GCSES were our first se­nior ex­ams, be­fore pro­gress­ing to Alevels and univer­sity.

In the in­ter­ven­ing years few of the skills I gath­ered were brought into ac­tion, and they faded into the past like Brit­pop, and Heartbreak High, and Barns­ley in the Pre­mier­ship.

But last month an op­por­tu­nity came up to re­live that part of our life which we had left be­hind – when we were given the chance to take a GCSE exam with only two weeks’ prepa­ra­tion.

The date was set for May 9, and we could take any sub­ject we de­sired.

We faced a dilemma. Do we tackle a sub­ject on which we floun­dered back in the ’90s? Or a com­pletely new sub­ject, to test rapid learn­ing skills?

Per­haps we should at­tempt some­thing which we had long since for­got­ten – my aca­demic claim to fame is a long-for­got­ten GCSE in An­cient Greek, which has limited us­age in nor­mal life but will be vi­tal should the Pelo­pon­nesian War ever break out again.

In the end we de­cided to tackle a sub­ject in which we had ex­celled in our youth, but use limited re­vi­sion to ‘top up’ what­ever ves­tiges of the­ory still clung to the back of our minds.

So for me it was math­e­mat­ics (with NO cal­cu­la­tor) and for fel­low vic­tim Matthew Reville, who had re­quested English Lan­guage, it was the in­ter­est­ingly ti­tled: “The writer’s craft.”

In our youth, we both got As in these sub­jects – could we re­live those glory days?

We would sit the pa­pers un­der au­then­tic exam con­di­tions at the Voy­ager Academy, with an in­vig­i­la­tor, in an empty theatre.

But first re­vi­sion beck­oned and since I wanted to find out how much knowl­edge I had re­tained – and there­fore by ex­ten­sion how use­ful the en­tire process had been in the first place - I spent only a cou­ple of evenings be­fore­hand strolling through this nu­mer­i­cal won­der­land.

The el­e­ments I had once em­braced like Al­ge­bra marched back in triumph. But there were other terms of which I had no rec­ol­lec­tion what­so­ever.

What, pray tell, is a Surd? Or a Box and Whisker Plot? How do you cal­cu­late the the vol­ume of a sphere? And I’m as­sum­ing that the ‘dis­creet data’ in a maths GCSE is very dif­fer­ent from that which we han­dle in the news­room ev­ery day!

I at­tempted a few in­ter­ac­tive puz­zles and failed dis­mally, and wor­ry­ingly I was strug­gling to as­cer­tain where I was go­ing wrong...

Fi­nally May 9, 10am, ar­rived. We walked in, proud as pea­cocks, and were im­me­di­ately rep­ri­manded by the in­vig­i­la­tor for talk­ing.

We waited, and deputy chief pho­tog­ra­pher David Lown­des spot­ted that we didn’t read the in­struc­tions thor­oughly be­fore turn­ing over.

The first few ques­tions seemed nice and easy, an­swers on per­cent­ages and his­tograms and frac­tions flow­ing nicely. But all-too-soon I re­alised that ‘know­ing’ some­thing is dif­fer­ent to ‘prov­ing’ it. The cor­rect ter­mi­nol­ogy for prov­ing two an­gles were iden­ti­cal eluded me (the an­swer was cor­re­spond­ing an­gles). An­other rookie mis­take was for­get­ting my com­pass. I’d pre­vi­ously scoured my house at­tempt­ing to find this piece of ap­pa­ra­tus, be­fore lazily as­sum­ing I was over­com­pli­cat­ing mat­ters and for­get­ting

about it.

True to form, Ques­tion 14: Con­struct a 30 de­gree an­gle us­ing a com­pass, show­ing all lines of con­struc­tion. Ter­rific.

Us­ing my hand as a crude pivot I stuck the two pen­cils into a V-shape – men­tally point­ing it at the ex­am­in­ers – be­fore plac­ing the pen­cil points on the an­swer sheet and mov­ing the sheet with my free hand. It worked, but an­noy­ingly I later found out I could ac­tu­ally have asked to bor­row a com­pass.

The ques­tion I dreaded – i.e. the one where I had no idea what­so­ever – reared its ugly head to­wards the end. Vec­tors. I turned the page with­out even wast­ing time.

And try as I might the equa­tion on the last page re­fused to work; by close of play the page was loaded with the scrawl­ing, ram­bling scrib­blings of a tor­tured mind, let­ters and num­bers fran­ti­cally swap­ping po­si­tions like de­mented mu­si­cal chair con­tes­tants.

So one hour 45 min­utes af­ter kick­ing off, I was done, and glad of it. I hadn’t em­bar­rassed my­self, but I ex­pected a B or C at best. Fif­teen min­utes later Matt fin­ished.

The re­sults popped up three days later...and we both scraped a B grade. 59 per cent for me, 63 per cent for Matthew.

My pa­per was fairly cut and dried and I could see ob­vi­ous mis­takes, but Matthew said: “I liked the sense of

feel­ings that

TEST­ING CON­DI­TIONS: John and Matt get to work.

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