Teachers change your life…or something

My family is moving in two weeks out of the house I’ve lived in for my whole life, so it doesn’t really come as a surprise that there is a lot of crap to sort through. I came across my old school reports (teachers really need to use words other than ‘conscientious’) and it came as a bit of a shock that I wasn’t always good at English. Now, this isn’t me being all ‘I am a genius, how could I have ever been bad?’. No, this is me saying that there was a time that my best subject was Maths and my worst was English; which is something a Classics-with-English student never expects to discover. I was looking through my primary school books (it’s unsurprising to see that I was never good at art), only to find that English didn’t really appeal to me early on. In fact, the comments from my teachers mainly told me to ‘stop writing about horses, think of other topics’ or ‘stop using the words beautiful and lovely in every piece of work’. It seemed sightly strange to me that, yes, although I was a seven year old obsessed with horses, my teachers were telling me that I shouldn’t write about what interested me. So what if it’s a creative writing piece with the title ‘prints in the snow’, we don’t want to see you following them to find a pony.

Ok, some of you might be thinking that they had a point and sure, I could have tried to write about something that didn’t include horses (or horse related creatures, such as unicorns or a pegasus), but that’s clearly what inspired me to write. That was what I enjoyed. Soon after my horse ban, my writing went downhill and there are comments on my sudden lack of effort and enthusiasm. Clearly I wasn’t impressed with being told I couldn’t write about the one thing that interested me.

Then comes secondary school and in my first year my English marks pick up, only to plummet in my second year (a year which I detested English due to the teacher). Then, out of nowhere, I suddenly start to get really good marks in my third year which only continue to improve throughout the rest of my education – all which was taught by the same English teacher, who I loved. Which brings us to today, where I’m pursuing a career in writing.

If that teacher hadn’t come along, I might have never enjoyed English. I might have stopped having lessons after GCSE. I might have chosen a completely different career path, maybe even choosing sciences, god forbid. It just seems absolutely bizarre to me that something like what teacher you have, which shouldn’t impact your education, changes your whole life. Maybe if I had a fantastic chemistry teacher who inspired me I would have decided to take it for A Level, and then gone on to do something like biochemistry. It’s pretty terrifying, actually, to think like that. English (and Classics, of course) is what I always think makes me, well, me. I’m the girl who is always reading, always writing, who wants to be an author, who is desperately trying to discover how I can get publishers to send me books for free to review – because, of course, everything is better with free books. Of course there are other things that make me who I am – this is where I include a shoutout to my family, my dog, my friends etc – but I’ve always thought that English was always my thing. I found a script, of all things, for a play that I wrote at a very young age (it’s about a group of kids who investigate a graveyard where there’s a vampire who they eventually defeat with the help of their dog – Scooby Doo, anyone?). Reading that, I just assumed that I always knew writing was what I wanted to do. But apparently not.

Teachers change your life. They do, as silly as it sounds. You think it all depends on what school you go to, but it also depends on what teacher you get. Maybe if I had been encouraged in primary school to write about whatever makes me interested, I would have been better at the subject earlier on instead of being upset that I was told to stop writing what inspired me. Maybe if that history teacher I had in my first few years of secondary school had taught me for GCSE as well I would have continued it. Maybe if my maths teacher didn’t ‘jokingly’ call me Twit every single lesson, I might have been more confident about my abilities.  Maybe if my PE teachers didn’t make me feel completely inadequate at AS, asking me constantly if I my handicap in golf had dropped every week, I might have enjoyed it and done better in the exam. Maybe, just maybe, teachers are far more important than you first think.

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Guide to University: exams

So after all the lectures, partying, essays and failed attempts at cooking, you unfortunately have to take these pesky things called exams’. I really dislike exams, mainly because you’re essentially tested on what you’ve memorised in the past few weeks (*cough*days*cough*) and what you’ll probably forget after 24 hours, a week tops. Not to mention you have a time limit. I always have loved that quote by Einstein about if you judge a fish on it’s ability to climb a tree, it will go through its whole life thinking that it’s a failure – you know, the one that always appears with this picture:

Anyway, the truth is that exams get more and more terrifying as they go along. First there are GCSEs to determine what sixth form you go to, then A levels that determine what uni you go to, then university exams that may well determine what job you eventually get. I never thought that exams could get worse, but university exams are bloody terrifying. Mine in particular were in Kensington (Olympia) where the room is giant, fitting around 1300 anxious, sweaty students.

There isn’t really a dress code, especially as it would probably be broken anyway, and i expected everyone to turn up in a similar attire to me (aka jeans, baggy t-shirt, no make up and a sloppy ponytail). That wasn’t the case. Sure, some people were like me (clearly they were the sane ones), but there were some girls with faces full of make up, wearing outfits that looked like they were party-ready and high heels. High. Heels. Then we had the other extreme with people turning up in pyjamas because ‘why the hell not’. Seriously, there have been weirder things.

But now, my friends, I have reached the other side after finishing all my exams in that disgusting room, spending copious amounts of time in the library (aka house of books) and works rooms. I like the lack of judgement especially that surrounds exam-time. You look kind of sloppy? So does pretty much everyone else. You’re eating loads of pizza and chocolate? Everyone else is either doing the same or wishing they were. You smell bad? Well, come on, take a shower – everyone still showers during exams. What are you, a slob?

Anyway, the way to get through exams is to keep going. Take it a day at a time, revise as much as you can – find friends to revise with who will slap your phone out of your hand when you try and scroll through facebook. Buy a ton of crappy food for rewards/motivation/stimulation. Food you can snack on, shove in your face and, if you’re feeling especially nice, share with your revision buddies. Try to grab a few healthy snacks (dried mango is the way to go, chaps) and, if that fails, at least make sure that when you eat some dinner to throw in all the veg that you’ve neglected during the day.

So, if you’ve got exams of any kind coming up – I salute you, soldier, and stay strong. One day we’ll be completely free and on to the next nightmare – aka days where you have to get up for work at arse o’clock in the morning for full days then crawl home to bed. Can’t wait.

Why the education system is flawed

As a seventeen year old student about to face my final exams that will essentially determine the rest of my life, I think that I have a bit of experience in the education system from when you first learn your times tables up until you’re eighteen trying to get the grades that your university offers are demanding.

I’ve already ranted and raved about how ridiculous I think it is that we have to decide our whole lives before we’re even deemed ‘adults’ (because of course as soon as we hit the age of eighteen we immediately become sensible, knowledgable adults). I have friends who didn’t do so well in their exams and are suddenly stuck because no university wants to take them in, meaning that they have to reevaluate their whole life plan. Another friend of mine has applied to, and received offers from, universities but since she applied a few months ago she’s realised that she doesn’t want to study what she’s applied to do. Instead, she wants to do something entirely different and is currently debating how she’s going to change it now. Luckily someone in my school realised a few weeks before applying to universities that she wanted to take an art foundation course rather than medicine.

So what is it that I’m really ranting about today? I’ll tell you the one word which simultaneously strikes fear into our hearts, makes us groan in frustration and have mental breakdowns multiple times a day: Exams.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, I get that we all have to do exams but the exams that we have to take these days are bordering on pointless. Let me give you my education for example and I’ll start with my GCSEs. I’m considered to be a ‘good’ student but I can safely say that I don’t remember most of the pointless information I had to remember for my GCSE exams. Yes, I said ‘remember’ and not ‘learn’. We spent more time looking at mark schemes to see ‘what the examiners gave marks for’ than looking things up in our textbooks. It didn’t take skill in understanding the depths of Chemistry to do well in the GCSE exam, but rather knowing what words you had to churn out in order to get those marks. I once dropped a mark by writing the answer ‘fossilised animals from millions of years ago’ instead of ‘dead fossilised animals from millions of years ago’. All we had to do was remember a bunch of information which we immediately forgot a few days later.

Moving on to A-levels, I’m going to focus first on my English and Classics exams. My first point to rant about? Time limits. We’re tested on how much we can write in a small amount of time and yet still expected to produce a high quality, thought-provoking essay that demonstrates our ‘flair’ to the examiner. I was told in one of my lessons today – another ‘exam prep’ lesson where we looked at mark schemes – that I needed to talk about what other people taking the exam won’t. I need to come up with something unique and original that no one else will think of so I stand out instead of stating the points that everyone will mention. My skills in mind reading and seeing the future aren’t up to scratch, so it’s going to be really difficult to know whether the points I make in my essays written in an hour will be made by anyone else. Not only that, but for English I have to memorise as many quotes as possible for a Shakespeare play, a Jacobean drama and one of the Canterbury Tales by Chaucer – quotes that aren’t in modern english with, to the ‘untrained eye’, a load of wacky spellings. I know I sound like a whining teenager – living up to the stereotype here – but I’d rather be tested on my analysis skills rather than writing incredibly quickly and churning out a load of quotes that I’ve been memorising, most of which I will write down just to show the examiner how many quotes I can remember.

Next, and final, subject on the list? Geography. To give you an idea, one section of my geography exam is the ‘physical geography’ section where I will answer a few questions on the topic of ‘plate tectonics’. It’s taken over a term – a long time if you think about it – to learn everything we might be asked on in the exam. I’m talking plate boundaries, plate movements, landforms, volcanoes, hot spots, volcanic eruption types, different types of volcanoes, earthquakes, ways of measuring earthquakes, the history of plate tectonics AND MORE. I will spend hours and hours and hours learning all of this information – as well as refining my skill to be ‘synoptic’ and a bunch of case studies which I must know facts and figures for – but in my exam I will be tested on a minuscule part of my knowledge. I could just be asked about earthquakes, which means all my knowledge on volcanoes will be made pointless, or I could even just be asked on ways to measure earthquakes and how they vary, in which case everything else I know will be, you guessed it, pointless.

Now don’t go taking this rant the wrong way. I actually adore all of my subjects and I’m one of those abnormal teenagers – again, fighting the stereotype – who actually enjoys school (well, to an extent, anyway). I’m planning on going to university this september to study English and Classics and I can’t wait, but what I really want to get across to you is that I think the way we are examined doesn’t best demonstrate our knowledge. So many students will be doing exams this year and will do badly – not because they’re dumb or didn’t revise or had bad teachers, but because they couldn’t write fast enough and ran out of time, or couldn’t remember that one word the examiners are looking for to award a mark. Maybe their ability for memorising information isn’t fantastic at the moment or maybe they’re just so stressed out that when they walk into the exam they can’t remember a thing and spend the whole exam time writing meaningless detail which will just receive a big, red cross.

I want the way teenagers are tested in schools to change – and for the better – so that we can all have a better chance to show how well we can do.

Anyway, if you’re facing exams this year then I wish you the best of luck and, if you want, leave a comment to tell me what you think about exams, pressure or anything of that variety. I’ll just be sitting here revising some mark schemes so that, when summer rolls around, I can walk into my exam and write exactly what the examiners want to see. ~Eleanor