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Barrie Hudson column: GCSEs are for wimps
IF you’re a grown-up and you know a young person who’s had their exam results lately, don’t forget to remind them that they have it easy these days.
They don’t have it easy, of course, but telling them they do is one of those little traditions that underpins British life.
If they’ve got a good mark in maths, for example, you might want to tell them you had to answer questions such as: “A ploughman with a team of three oxen, one of which is deaf and the other has a slightly arthritic left hind leg, must plough a field measuring three furlongs, nine chains and a yard by eight scuttles, nine sticks and a tail.
“Bearing in mind that the weather forecast says ‘light sleet’, (a) what are his chances, expressed as a percentage of the average hat size in 1928, of getting his cheese and pickle sandwich damp? and (b) how would the answer vary if the ox’s sore leg was on the other side?”
Don’t forget, also, to remind the young person that you weren’t allowed to use a pocket calculator. No, you had to look up the relevant equations on a parchment with print so small that you needed a magnifying glass to see it.
If the young person has done well in chemistry, tell them it’s all multiple choice and coloured water these days, not like when you were a boy or girl. In those days you really had to work at the subject, and if you wanted so much as a grade ‘C’ you had to transform a lump of lead into gold and then fashion a primitive life form in a crucible using old cutlery, sulphur and a bottle of dandelion and burdock.
Oh, and if you wanted a grade ‘A’ the primitive life form had to be able to tapdance while singing a sizeable selection of the works of Andrew Lloyd Webber.
In physics, of course, the exam included a practical section in which you had to construct a small thermonuclear device, prime it and then take it to the end of the school field for detonation. There was none of this health and safety nonsense in them days; none of this namby-pamby getting your mum to write a note to teacher saying you needed a day off because you had penetrative flash burns and radiation sickness.
If a young person has done well in their history exam, it’s time to remind them that all you have to do for an A-star these days is write your name at the top of the paper and jot down some random thoughts about what it was like to have a dose of Plague.
In your day, by contrast, you had to deliver a blow-by-blow account of the entire conflict between Athens and Sparta, state the exact size of each army and list the soldiers’ names and hobbies.
Your aim in telling the young person this should be to make them laugh at you, just as they’ll one day make their own children laugh when they say: “We didn’t have these newfangled 800 petabyte brain implants in my day, young ‘un – we had to make do with iPads and we were grateful for ‘em.”
If you find, however, that rather than making them laugh you’ve demoralised them to the point where they wonder why they bothered doing any exams in the first place, you might want to apply for as job as one of those ‘education experts’ who seem to pop up on the telly every August.