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Arnold's World

My 16-year-old niece is quite persuaded by the research which proves that background music helps pupils to concentrate.

What's more, her own findings indicate that the louder it's played, the better she concentrates. And when she's revising, she needs it at a volume that can only be measured on the Richter scale. When her parents ask her to turn it down they're told, "You want me to fail these exams, don't you! You just don't care! Nobody cares! You all hate me!" Emotional outbursts such as this are, of course, perfectly normal for a teenager coping with the pressures of exams. Her parents know this. And so does she. GCSE revision has given her a unique opportunity to let her metaphoric hair down. She has, at last, felt free to voice her mind on a series of past grievances and slights: for example, being lumbered with the bottom bunk, summer holidays '91 and the trauma of discovering that the '88 Christmas stocking did not contain the much-requested Hula Hair Barbie With Beach Accessories.

Over the past two months, her parents have learned the trick of managing a tolerant smile while they bite their metaphoric tongues. But my niece has learned that a revision programme entails more than opportune explosions of tetchiness and bouts of calculated hysteria. Her parents have bought her a shelf of self-help books with titles such as How To Do Brill in Your Exams and GCSE Is Lemon Squeezy. She has taken their content to heart - especially the sensible advice on how important it is not to deprive yourself of sleep during the run-up to exams. Even so, she makes a point of always getting up in time for at least the second half of Countdown.

Oddly, for a child who never had much time for television, since she started revising she has become well and truly hooked. As well as the obligatory Neighbours, Emmerdale and Jerry Springer, she finds that she cannot drag herself away from Question Time, Gardeners' World, and highlights of the Crown Green Bowling from Lytham St Anne's. Not that she spends all her time watching television.

Acutely aware of what too much work and no play does, she has crowded more social events into the weeks leading up to her exams than even the flappiest deb ever dared squeeze into the Season. She appreciates that she cannot both swot and socialise to such excess without meticulous planning. She is brilliant at this as a glimpse at her bedroom wall will quickly reveal. No, not the 287 portraits of Leonardo Di Caprio, but the opposite wall which is adorned with her magnum opus - My Revision Timetable. It is a breathtaking example of what can be achieved with the Crayola Super Deluxe Art Case (Christmas '93), a set-square and a whole week of the Easter holidays.

When she leaves the house with a grumpy goodbye, she will find mummy and daddy are as supportive as they always are - "have you got your spare Parker and your Polos, darling?" - but they, too, have been counting the days. When she returns from that last exam, she will find them strangely tetchy, subject to hysterical outbursts and with a long list of grudges dating back to the squashy rusk incident of '83.

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