Six hours and a sore forearm
I don’t know what writer’s cramp is; what I do know is that I (still) have aching muscles up the outside of my right forearm. Six hours of examination in a single day has found me before, and today’s lot left me in no better condition than last time. I was tired, worn out, a bit shaken at my abysmal performance in the latter exam, and had a sore writing arm. On the one hand, glad it’s over, on the other, wishing I had some decent rest before the second of the two exams; and then eventually settling into a “sigh, what is there I can do about it anyway” sort of melancholy to end the day. That’s around where I am now.
I was nervous at the start of today. Not tense, just nervous. If I was lucky, everything would go to plan. If I wasn’t, then nothing would. I had done all the preparation I could be reasonably expected to do (okay, I’ll rephrase that: could be bothered doing) and, as planned, after yesterday morning, I had moved into “close eyes, cross fingers and hope for the best” mode.
Well, French didn’t go according to plan. Knowing that the exam was designed to be completed in two-and-a-half hours, I aimed to leave after that amount of time. That didn’t quite work. I had to spend a fair amount of time after the listening comprehension section rewriting answers and rubbing out pencil markings (I hope I erased them all) and pondering over why that kid liked extreme sports (my phonetic transcription in pencil was “…en quel on ne s’éton pas” which doesn’t form proper words, and I couldn’t figure out what it actually was, so I gave up), and reading comprehension took a fair while too. After 97 minutes, the first candidate left the exam room. 97 minutes. By this time, I hadn’t even finished the reading comprehension, let alone started writing the essay. It is, indeed, reminiscent of last year, where the first leaver was at the 80-minute mark, and interestingly, it was the same person. This year’s second leaver was at the 105-minute mark. Ah well, I thought. It’s not the first time I’ve seen this happen. And I carried on.
Before I left home, I drank my customary four glasses of water, but after a breakfast that left me bloated, it seemed to be too much, and by the end of the exam, I had a dire need to visit the toilet. By contrast, the same dose before physics had left me dehydrated. I therefore conclude, based on similar experiences last year, that it is difficult to predict how much water one should take before entering a three-hour exam.
As it happened, I did not start writing the essay until about 100 minutes had passed, ten minutes after the recommended time. The chance of me leaving early was therefore slim. The essay choice wasn’t too difficult: I’ve grown sick of writing about holidays after four years of it, I haven’t bought anything new and flash recently (I rarely ever do), and I don’t really want to send someone off to France or wherever-it-was, which really only left the thing about advice to a penfriend for stress and health. I seemed to lack the vocabulary to write about it, and was therefore relying on the prescribed vocabulary list for level seven of the curriculum, which made things a bit harder. When I finished my essay, it was three minutes off the end of the exam. So I didn’t leave until the full three hours had expired, so I had one hour to get home, eat lunch, have a rest, and get back to school.
In between French and English
So, I went home, had my lunch and was sort of full. By then it was five past one. We’re told to arrive at “big” exams like English forty-five minutes before it starts (two o’clock), though I know that in practice the proceedings don’t begin until about half past. That, therefore, was when I aimed to arrive, hoping that I would arrive after people had been sent to their exam rooms, in order to maximise my sleep time. I arrived a few minutes earlier than this, and so missed out on some sleep, and we ended up waiting a while for absentees, so I’d’ve been better off just arriving at five to two, but oh well. Like I say, things weren’t going to plan today.
This exam was long and hard, and did not go as planned. The unfamiliar texts paper stumped me on virtually every question. By the end of the examination I had still not written answers for question two or five. To write answers for other two prose questions took me the full fifteen minutes allocated to it. No, it was not a good start at all. If there is one thing I cannot do, it is rushing analyses of texts. Sixty minutes is not long enough for me. It took me until I had finished with all three past papers to convince me of this, but I had finally come to accept it as a fact of life. (Put bluntly, I lack literature skills.) I stumbled through the poem and then sort of got somewhere with the visual text, I hope, and then I got sick of it and decided I’d come back to the oral text, if I had time.
I might add here, a small rant about a particular frustration with the unfamiliar texts paper. I noticed that every year for the past three years, the style of this paper’s changed significantly. This year, it changed quite noticeably again. When’ll they make up their minds on how to write this paper? (I can answer that: probably after the seventh year of the exam, once the examiners have gained enough experience, because I mean, let’s face it, in a totally new system, no-one truly knows what they’re doing.) Seemingly every question in this paper started with the words “Analyse how”, the openness of which baffled me.
My biggest fear for this exam—and the reason why I said it would either go really well or really badly—was that the essay questions would not suit me. My fears were realised. The language features question in the poetry paper was to do with a “sense of place”, and I have no idea what that means, so I chose something to do with “saying a lot with few words”. It should be an interesting question, I thought. This went okay: I wrote four pages that, admittedly, were twisted in ways that examiners generally don’t like essays to be, but I got there.
The novel paper was a right pain, having no questions that could even kind of be linked to symbolism or irony. I ended up attempting to write a rather flimsy and made-up account of how Atticus’ dealings with Tom Robinson were important to the text as a whole. Whether I actually wrote about that (or of anything of any substance) is a slightly different story. After that I had sort of reached a point where I didn’t really feel like writing another essay, so I returned to the last close reading passage, and wrote whatever I could possibly think of, and then returned to the film essay with thirty-eight minutes remaining.
The film paper was also a pain, though this was to be expected because I know little about our film apart from its themes and characters. The question I would have dreamed of—one to do with contrast—wasn’t there. So I wrote about setting, but it asked for “an important setting”, which I presumed meant one setting, so I chose the aerospace firm, which rather limited my discussion, and it didn’t help that it was about making it more “believable”, which was a rather hard thing to do. So, a rather flimsy and made-up account of how the setting of Gattaca was made to be believable, which in turn helps promotes some of the themes of the film. I wonder if the marker’ll buy it.
The recommended time for essays is forty minutes each, so thirty-eight minutes shouldn’t have been too bad. I don’t know why—maybe it was because every time I try to write an essay at home, it virtually always takes between forty-seven and fifty minutes—but I rushed the film essay. I sort of slowed down towards the end, mostly because of that pain in my writing forearm, and finished with three minutes to spare. Sick of the essays, I used the last three minutes to stack a bit on another answer, and then time was up.
Wow, wasn’t that a boring account of today’s activities? Congratulations if you actually read through all that; I’m quite impressed. The brighter side is that my weak subjects are both out of the way and I only have one NCEA examination left (the Scholarship examinations are more exciting than stressful). I suppose I may as well focus on my upcoming exams. There’s nothing I can do about today’s events anyway.