Thursday, 10 September 2009

Testing, one . . .

Just over 35 years ago, I walked out of an exam room, having finished the final paper of my psychology degree finals. I’d been sitting exams once or twice a year since the age of nine or so. Twelve years: maybe twenty sets of exams. Mostly, I was good at them. But I’d had enough.

I walked into the bar, I announced that I would never take another exam. Then I got drunk.

I don’t know if I meant my decision to last a lifetime but I certainly stuck to it for long enough. Apart from taking my driving test (and maybe the odd personality test in a magazine), I sat no exams for 35 years. Nor did I miss them.

It’s not that I don’t think exams are a good thing — now and or back then. I think they’re a good way of assessing capability. They’re not perfect, of course, but they are a pretty good measure of knowledge, understanding and ability to work smart and fast in a stressful and unpredictable situation. All incredibly useful skills in life and work’s not uncommon tight spots.

Renouncing exams was a purely personal thing. Enough was, just, enough. I felt I’d had my lifetime’s fill of them.

So, when I decided I wanted to do a masters in psychoanalysis, I was put off by the fact that the UCL course had exams. It was clearly the best and toughest course — closest to my house, too. But exams . . . I really, really couldn’t be having with them.

I mentioned this to a university lecturer friend, Elizabeth. She was her usual direct self. ‘Don’t be so silly,’ she said. ‘You of all people shouldn’t worry. You’ve spent a lifetime writing to deadline under pressure. You’ll be fine.’

Next up So was I? Fine, that is.

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