Failing Maths at Sir Philip Magnus school, 1958

In June 1958 our class was told about the annual mathematics examination. This didn’t fill me with enthusiasm. I feared exams and I especially hated maths. Our teacher, Mr Jones, a hard Welshman from the Rhonda, made the announcement with a certain finality in his voice. This meant: there would be no exceptions.

As he distributed a sheaf of examination papers, face down, he announced these were an example of a test grade paper given some years earlier. The mock examination was to get us ready for the real thing. Everything about this mock would be treated like the real thing. He emphasised the regulations, “No talking, under any circumstances.” If anyone did not understand a question, they could raise their hand and he’d help.

You’ll have exactly, One Hour, from when I tell you to turn over your paper”.

I had a mixture of feelings. I was pleased that this wasn’t the real exam, so I didn’t have to worry about getting the questions wrong! The test went OK. The actual examination was a different matter altogether.

Instead of taking the exam in our usual classroom, we went to the hall. Desks were spaced out in rows, much further apart than we’d seen before. The regulations were just as Mr Jones had said but with the addition of the ticking of the large hall clock.

Two hours!

You may now turn over the paper, in front of you. Don’t forget to print your name, and date, at the head of the paper.”

I’d worried about this ordeal a lot and the previous night it took a long time to get to sleep.

We were told to answer each question as fully as possible, as the teacher who was to mark our papers could not possibly know our thinking. The questions, on three sides of A5 paper were clearly numbered and we were told,

As it was important to answer as many questions as possible, if you don’t know, or understand a question, – leave it and go onto the next, you can then go back to the question/s you missed. If you have the time.”

My stomach was churning as my head was working me up to a frenzy of self-doubt and failure. I had yet to read any of the questions, but already I could feel my forehead beginning to sweat. Several deep breaths later, I managed to concentrate on the questions.

Just two questions remain with me because they were a nightmare

Question 3. Define what is meant by the term, “using Logarithms and anti-logarithms?

Question 8. In what sense is Algebra used in defining complex formula.

Some people find mathematics as easy as anything. Unfortunately I struggle at the simplest levels and failed.


This entry was posted in Autobiography, education, Mathematics, School and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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