Extracts from diaries and writings on examsby Ian Irvine / April 24, 2012 / Leave a comment
Published in May 2012 issue of Prospect Magazine
The Exam Room by Cyril Edward Power (1934)
John Henry Newman writes to his friend Walter Mayers about his final examinations at Oxford, January 1821:
“My failure was most remarkable. I will grant I was unwell, low-spirited, and very imperfect in my books; yet, when in the Schools, so great a depression came on me, that I could do nothing. I was nervous in the extreme, a thing I never before experienced, and did not expect—my memory was gone, my mind altogether confused. The examiners behaved with great kindness to me, but nothing would do. I dragged a sickly examination from Saturday to Friday, and after all was obliged to retire from the contest. I will not attempt to describe the peace of mind I felt when it was over.”
WNP Barbellion, aged 21, a self-taught zoologist, writes in his Journal of a Disappointed Man, 20th June, 1911:
“Sat at Liverpool University for the practical exam, Zoology, Board of Education. At the close the other students left but I went on working. Prof. Herdman asked me if I had finished. I said ‘No,’ so he gave me a little more time. Later he came up again, and again I said ‘No,’ but he replied that he was afraid I must stop. ‘What could you do further?’ he asked, picking up a dish of plankton. I pointed out a Sagitta, an Oikopleura, and a Noctiluca, and he replied, ‘Of course I put in more than you were expected to identify in the time, so as to make a choice possible.’ Then he complimented me on my written papers which were sent in some weeks ago, and looking at my practical work he added, ‘And this, too, seems to be quite excellent.’ I thanked him from the bottom of a greedy and grateful heart, and he went on, ‘I see you describe yourself in your papers as a journalist, but can you tell me exactly what has been your career in zoology?’ I answered of course rather proudly that I had had no career in zoology. ‘But what school or college have you worked at?’ he persisted.