I’m not great at exams or tests, unless it’s something I absolutely know – but even then there’s a good chance my mind will space out and I’ll get simple things wrong.
I coasted my way through standard grades and even my highers… in all my years, just off what I happened to remember from the classes. I didn’t know how to engage with the information, never mind study or formulate the answers lecturers wanted from me.
When I got to uni, it was mostly all about those essays. My first essay at uni I scored 18/20 in Classics, and the teacher said I saved her soul because my enthusiasm for Classics oozed out of the pages. But then, it set me up with a false hope – when other teachers didn’t appreciate my poetic style and my ability to inform rather than factually analyse the grades dropped and my attempts at essay writing faded year on year.
Then came the exams where you’re expected to remember and regurgitate the coursework verbatim and don’t start me on open-book exams! The crux of all of these is when the tutors don’t explain how to tackle the questions, what to actually do in the exams or they make something up which is the exact opposite of what’s required.
I had classes as well where the essay questions were pre-selected for you, but I could never make heads nor tales of them and in desperate attempt to figure it out, I’d have a whole plan and run full steam ahead. (Even consulting with the course lecturer, hoping I was on the right track but they seemed impervious to my pleas of help) Then the damn things would be returned a few weeks later with a shitty grade (at least comparatively to others – and sometimes just downright shitty) and there’d be no chance of support to improve or understand what the hell they wanted in the first place!!!
The most disgusting and heart-breaking example was my dissertation. The idea struck me in a moment of inspiration in the library while lamenting that I wasn’t studying Italian, nor the Romans and wondering if the Romans ever had any ties to Spain. Ha! Maybe it’s common-ish knowledge nowadays but it was the first time I’d come across the Conquest for Hispania and that it took over 200 years to be conquered. I knew about Carthage, the Punic Wars, and Carthago Novo (now Cartagena in Murcia), but suddenly everything tied together.
My preparation work and presentation scored me a massively high A3 mark, so naturally my expectation was that this would translate into a similar grade.
Eleven months and over ten-thousand words later, despite going to every supervisor meeting possible and repeatedly being told that I had it and was doing fine… I got that plastic bound tome returned to me with not an A grade. The first paragraph of feedback was calling my work stellar, the narrative well-crafted, and that I’d handled the mixture of sources flawlessly, especially for an undergraduate thesis. Alas, what could I do? The supervisor I had was not skilled in European History, never mind Classical Western History and the classics department at uni had been made defunct, not that I could get another lecturer to mark it anyway. I was deeply angry about it for a long time, given how much effort I did put it – so many studyspo posts say that the effort won’t betray the grade, but in real life, it often can do – especially if you’re just not working in the teacher’s realm.
I’m still proud of my dissertation, and plan to rewrite and expand it in the future for MYSELF, because I find the subject endlessly fascinating. Isn’t that what education is? Or should be? About diving head-first into a thrilling new adventure and learning and absorbing all that you can about it… Not about how well you can construct a 2000 word essay or answer eight essay questions in an exam in under 2 hours.
I’m enthusiastic about plenty of stuff, I’m nerdy, brainy and have plenty of smarts, but maybe it doesn’t all translate to a specific grade. It’s a quality of knowledge that maybe can’t be measured but experienced.
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