Our high school students are just finishing writing their final exams.  In Ontario we used to write provincial exams for grade thirteen  (university entrance)  that were submitted anonymously and marked by an outside panel.  I wrote them at Hill Park, invigillated them as a teacher, and marked them one blazing hot July in the University of Toronto Varsity Arena. There are no “provincials” anymore. There is no longer any grade thirteen.

Of course, there was never any air conditioning, or bottled water. We wrote exams on rickety little tables set up with folding chairs in long rows that stretched the length of the gym or the drill hall. Ingenious means were devised to keep wobbly tables from shaking: I once took off my sandal and stuffed it under a too-short table leg. The invigillators paced up and down, back and forth, in endless mindless tedium, while the students got cramped fingers and numb bums! The exams were two and a half hours long and no one could leave early! Language exams were in two parts… Lit and Comp… five hours total, always the same day!

I have an anxiety dream about those exams,  a dream that comes back, even after all these years, when I am worried about doing something and feel helpless about coping.

After a long and bitter campaign I finally got my mother to permit me to transfer at the end of grade ten from a convent school to the newly opened local high school. At Loretto, we were much exposed to liturgical Latin, but formal training in classical Latin was minimal. Grade Thirteen Latin was a prerequisite for studying honours English at university, and I was two years behind!  Latin was a memory course, a “bird” course, where an excellent student could get perfect marks, but my marks, hard-won, were in the eighties!  I had caught up enough for first class marks, but not a scholarship!

The other factor in my dream is the grade thirteen history teacher, who would pace around the room, ask his question, and then wheel around behind you and point and shout your name.  At that point I would be too startled to remember the question. Ha! Ha! Daydreaming again… very funny! I was never very good at memorizing what I call the “trivial pursuit” details of history, but Mr. G. loved dates and statistics! I did not love history that year, although it had been a favourite subject until then, and I certainly did not love Mr. G.

The dream? Nervous, I line up for my history exam, pick it up and race back to my table. But the questions are all in Latin, and we are expected to answer in that language! I have never found out what happens next. Awake, I can fantasize multiple interesting conclusions. But I have always been awakened by the dream, and am left in trembling suspense.

Do you have any special memories about exams… or special dreams about them? Can you identify with the hapless student… and his table partner… in this video?

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3 Responses to Loopholes

  1. The last exams I wrote were for my accounting degree: three hour ordeals that counted for 100% of one’s mark. I was wishing mighty hard for those high-school Latin exams – at the time, they seemed easy in comparison. 😉

    • motleydragon says:

      Yes, the professional exams are sink-or-swim and the stakes are very high. Universities were much smaller and the entry standards much stricter in the time I was describing. We took those exams very, very seriously!

      My son, who is a university English prof, tells me that such exams are rarely used these days. Many students lack the skill and stamina to write legibly in longhand because they are so used to keyboarding.

      And of course, writing in longhand makes significant editing impossible… one must plan instead. So longhand writing reveals the process of one’s thinking much more transparently than keyboarding. The process is very different. Interesting!

      Good to hear from you again!

  2. Colby Howett says:

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