College Problem was the worst examination I’ve ever achieved

  1. Margaret McCartney, GP

  1. Glasgow

Examinations are the hallmark of medical training, 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 sequence 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 is best to undoubtedly do it. You don’t know something about trendy tradition, sport, geography, historical past, or artwork, or . . . drugs . . . however, nonetheless, you need to undoubtedly 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, the usage of opera samples in up to date music, in fact. 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 assumed I’d at the least deliver my group some factors on classical music.

There was no classical music query.

I assumed that maybe bees would possibly 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 superb punt. I learnt a protracted listing and thought their constituencies would even be a superb query (Gordon Brown, Dunfermline East; Theresa Could, Maidenhead). Nope. I felt that figuring out birdsong can be a terrific query, put in an app from the Royal Society for the Safety of Birds, and did my every day homework. Goldfinches, woodpigeons, robins. All pretty. There was nothing on birdsong.

I assumed 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 knowledgeable on the historical past of the suffragettes. That didn’t come up both. Realizing that common tradition was one other main weak point, I assumed I ought to focus my time on buffing up on Succession, the award successful, 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 at all times 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, in fact, below strain and below very brilliant lights, bear in mind which one it was. I attempted to not chortle (and failed there too). I assumed one thing on T S Eliot’s The Wasteland is perhaps requested. I used to be appropriate! However even then, I failed to recollect what I did, someplace, know. The strain of the digital camera was horrible.

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


  • Competing pursuits: none declared.

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