School Exams

I can’t recall the day when, at the age of 16 years, I received my O Level results, I can recall lots of things from my childhood but not that day although if you listen to media commentators at the moment and if you watch as they gather outside and inside schools to observe students receiving their grades you’d think, aided by a ridiculous commentary that this is the most important event in any persons life, its not, its a mere pin prick of slight importance in any life, a fleeting moment of shrug-shoulder-ness, an event that can either be re-done or undone at a later date or indeed done again many more times in future – its not that important at all actually.

I seem to vaguely recall that I garnered a total of seven O levels but I also seem to vaguely recall that when I found the actual certificate in my fathers house when we were clearing it out after his death I was surprised to see that I only got five O levels, maybe thats why I could never remember what those seven were, for the record I think they were Art, Geography, English, Maths and something else so important that its completely gone from the memory, of those only Art was a grade 1 the rest were just “He turned up and got some of the questions right” sort of grades, in fact the Maths one was so poor that I took it again the following year and got a “He tried again so we were a bit kinder this time” grade.

I also got a CSE grade 1 result in French, CSE’s were the now defunct exam that the really thick kids took, let me explain a little background info here, back in the day there was a two tier education system, the clever kids (or the ones who just scraped through by the skin of their teeth, ie me) went to Grammar School, the thick kids (like our Ned) went to a Secondary Modern School where they were primed for a life of manual labour and menial tasks for the betterment of society, so thick were they that they had to take a different grade of examination, the Certificate of Secondary Education, an exam that basically reminded everyone that you were one of the thick kids and that you actually stayed at school until you were 16 in order to prove this.

My French at the Grammar School was so poor that it was considered that I would get a better grade by doing the thick kids exam rather than the intelligent kids exam and so it proved to be for I got a grade 1 CSE in French, I quickly point at this juncture that this means absolutely nothing for I still can only point at things and grunt at shopkeepers to make myself understood when in France for the French CSE exam was perhaps the easiest exam I have ever undertaken, the written part being a multiple choice question affair with each question having three answers provided, all you had to do was to tick the correct one and with a pass mark of 33% you had a gamblers chance of winning, lets just say that the multiple choice questions asked of the ITV Daytime viewers seem hard by comparison.

There was also an “interview” as part of the French CSE exam conducted by our French Master (we didn’t have teachers, we had “Masters”) and an outside examiner, this consisted of me entering a room from which within you were not allowed to speak English, “Bonjour” the outside examiner said, “Bonjour” I replied, the examiner turned to our French Master and whispered “He’s good isn’t he?”, I was the best they’d seen that day.

And here is how important those exams are/were, when twelve months later I went for the job interview that was to shape my future career I was asked how many O levels I had earned, “Seven” I replied, “Would you like the job” my soon to be boss asked. He didn’t ask me to prove that I had seven O levels (good job because I hadn’t got seven O levels) and he didn’t ask me what subjects they were in, I have never since been asked the question and never had to remove the certificate that shows I got five O levels from its envelope.

Don’t lose any sleep kids, its not important.

PS : I remembered the fifth O level – technical drawing, I was good at the drawing bit but absolutely useless at the technical bit however even though I struggled to work out third and first angle elevation I still applied for a job as an architects assistant and another as a draughtsman, the world can breath easy that I took the first job offered at the first interview and never made it to those other two.


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