College Problem was the worst examination I’ve ever performed

  1. Margaret McCartney, GP

  1. Glasgow

Examinations are the hallmark of medical schooling, and I hated each one. So why volunteer for an additional examination, with inevitable, predictable, public failure? As a result of it’s iconic, as a result of I’m now in my f**k-it fifties, as a result of life is brief, work is tough, and this is also frivolous enjoyable—and enjoyable ought to stay vital. Additional, this was Jeremy Paxman’s final collection of College Problem, and my family has a standing WhatsApp group to point out off their solutions. Others in my household rating excessive teenagers and early twenties. I’m fortunate if I get maybe two in whole. I ummed and aaahed, torn by the potential outcomes of hilarity and humiliation. My husband, whose loyalty has by no means been doubtful, inspired: “It’s best to positively do it. You don’t know something about trendy tradition, sport, geography, historical past, or artwork, or . . . medication . . . however, nonetheless, you must positively do it.”

Fail to organize—put together to fail! Reader, I ready. Classical music: I used to sing in a choir. Give me a bar, and I will provide you with the remainder of the aria; ask me to call the title, or composer, and I’ll look clean. So, I dusted down dozens of scores, listened to every, and re-committed them to reminiscence. Rossini’s Petite Messe Solennelle, Verdi’s and Duruflé’s requiems, Vaughan Williams’s A Sea Symphony, Walton and Belshazzar’s Feast. Bonus questions: ah, using opera samples in modern music, after all. Faithless, “Drifting Away” (sampling Mefistofele, Boito’s solely opera), Warren G and Sissel’s “Prince Igor” (opera of the identical title, composed by Borodin). I revised enthusiastically. I examined myself most nights. I believed I might no less than deliver my group some factors on classical music.

There was no classical music query.

I believed that maybe bees may come up as a result of I had a dream about bees. I learnt about carpenter bees, mason bees, and mining bees. There have been no questions on bees.

With Liz Truss as prime minister on the time of recording, absolutely the shortest serving prime ministers was a great punt. I learnt a protracted listing and thought their constituencies would even be a great query (Gordon Brown, Dunfermline East; Theresa Might, Maidenhead). Nope. I felt that figuring out birdsong can be a fantastic query, put in an app from the Royal Society for the Safety of Birds, and did my every day homework. Goldfinches, woodpigeons, robins. All beautiful. There was nothing on birdsong.

I believed I ought to deal with the topic of sport, determined to specialise, and learnt concerning the winners of the Tour de Femmes. I disappeared right into a bookish wormhole, solely to emerge as an skilled on the historical past of the suffragettes. That didn’t come up both. Understanding that in style tradition was one other main weak spot, I believed I ought to focus my time on buffing up on Succession, the award profitable, deliciously horrible comedy drama, the place I learnt the distinction between Hearts and Hibs soccer groups, that Kieran Culkin is brother of Macaulay, and that it was half filmed within the V&A, Dundee, and Gleneagles. Certainly, that was not requested both.

Flags although: there are all the time flags. I’ve a vexillologist within the household (I additionally learnt a whole lot of “ologies,” from apiology (bees) to pomology (fruits): no questions on that). I made a decision to particularly cowl flags with animals in them and flags with stars in them. And sure, a flag I learnt got here up! I couldn’t, after all, underneath stress and underneath very vivid lights, bear in mind which one it was. I attempted to not snigger (and failed there too). I believed one thing on T S Eliot’s The Wasteland is likely to be requested. I used to be appropriate! However even then, I failed to recollect what I did, someplace, know. The stress of the digicam was horrible.

I’ve not obtained any higher at exams. Against this, radio is simple. When recording for Radio 4, I cycle to the BBC, swipe my go, and, perspiring frivolously in biking gear, invisibly enter a tiny cabinet containing a microphone. I get out my notes and, undistracted, communicate down the road to whoever desires to pay attention, after which depart, undetected. Tv studios are crammed with folks and require make up, swishy hair, and fast retouchings underneath the lights. TV is sparkle, pizazz, and scary. By no means has my darkish, lonely cabinet been extra inviting. Below lights, with a buzzer at ones’ fingertips, and understanding that my youngsters would ultimately watch with their heads of their palms, College Problem was simply the worst examination I’ve ever performed; and I communicate as a lady who might often salvage a pass-fail oral.


  • Competing pursuits: none declared.

  • Provenance and peer evaluate: not commissioned, not peer reviewed.

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