Thursday 18 August 2011

On qualifications

It's A Level results day. If you are getting yours and are anxious, let's face it, exams are so easy now you all got 3 A grades. Well done.

I got my A Level results 13 years ago this week. I also got 3 A grades. However, I was one of only about three or four people at my college to do so. I always hated those people who said exams are getting easier when I was taking exams. However, a decade watching my own academic achievements being dwarfed by a bunch of spotty Herberts who just turned up and wrote their own name starts to stick in your craw. I guess it's one of the most inevitable features of getting older, like nasal hair or prostate cancer.

On the first day of my A level courses, one of my teachers explained that an A level was one part what you are taught but, equally, one part stuff you have to research and discover off your own back. Even as a 16-year old who thought they knew everything but actually knew nothing, I suspected that this was a lie. And so it proved to be. I tried it out once. A scientific test. I spent days in libraries researching my first Sociology essay, which proved to be so exceptional I got a letter of commendation from the Head. Fuck all that. Especially when it turned out that I could get grades just as good writing essays on the floor in front of CBBC.

I increasingly wonder, though, if there was something in that initial claim. It's just that the things you ought to discover aren't in books. They are friends, drink, drugs, fun, life. Doing the bare minimum to get through at an acceptable level is all very well and good. But for someone like me it also meant shutting off entirely when everything you needed to do was done.

They say you shouldn't have regrets. But I do. I didn't really start to find out who I was or who I could be until I was 24 years old. Up until that point I was (by my own choice and actions alone, mind you) insular, shy and friendless. The potential was all in there. People don't change - witness the fact I still had those results in the photograph, from the day itself, to hand. In the end, I got 3 A grades and all I ended up with was this lousy missed opportunity.

You can't go back. Ultimately, it was for the best, because without things turning out the way they did I'd not be so lucky as I am now, to have nice friends and a nice life. But things could have been nice then, too. The most important thing I should have learnt at college was the only thing they don't teach you.


Merry Mary said...

I can't believe that you still have the paper... (well, I can, but still)

It was clear to me after uni that the most important thing about it wasn't the education, it was the opportunity to grow up, to experience life a bit. What was useful from the education side of it for me was the skills I gained (reading like a demon, ability to write well, summarise, analyse, etc) rather than anything to do with the stuff I learnt.

Of course, that might be different if we'd picked a subject with some sort of practical application in the real world.

dotmund said...

I completely agree. That's the thing I missed. I have such a one-track mind sometimes - I get into a way of thinking where I focus on the one thing and exclude anything extraneous to it. It's often been to my own detriment, because those are usually the best bits.

If I did it now with the confidence I have to be me, I'm sure I'd have an awesome time. I'd probably fail all my exams, mind you. But they're not the important bit!

dotmund said...

I am increasingly conscious, though, that my university education taught me how to argue my point well and logically. Even if I didn't realise that stuff was going in at the time.

Incidentally, I also still have my GCSE result papers...

Merry Mary said...

I have 11 As in GCSe and the Match Extension paper, if that helps your issues around our A-level results.

(there was no A* when I took them)

Merry Mary said...


dotmund said...

You could have no qualifications at all save for a bit of paper with a thumbprint on it and I'd still be completely ready to admit that you've got the beating of me :)

From the point of view of full disclosure, I got 11 GCSEs too, 4 A and 7 B. And they *did* have A* when I did them...


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