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
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
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
TESTING CONDITIONS: John and Matt get to work.