No waiving the rules allowed;Talkback

12th June 1998 at 01:00
Examiners will recognise this one. It comes up every year. Don't know the answer? Read on, says Richard Daubney

You get them every year when you're an examiner. Dear Examiner scripts. They're a doddle to mark - you just give them nought and put R on the front for rubric infringement.

They're written by candidates who have nothing to tell you about the subject because they haven't read the books or done any revision or even been to the lessons.

But they have lots to tell you about their lives, and two hours to tell you it in. The examiner is sometimes a therapist, sometimes a confessor, sometimes a friend, and occasionally an enemy. Whatever the candidate makes of you, the important thing is you'll never meet. So they can tell you anything. And they do. And the sad thing is, you never get to answer back.

What would I have said, for example, to this one, the candidate who used the most basic of examination evasion techniques - produced a set of wavy lines?

"Wavy lines, examiner. Wavy lines. I will draw you wavy lines. But not until after this, the first page. Because while I'm writing this, invigilators are stalking the rows, trying to squint at what I've put. But once I've turned over, examiner, I shall draw you lines like a child draws the sea."

And she did. She filled answer book after answer book with waves, and tied them together with string. And my reply, if only if I could have had one? I would have told her a friend of mine did that once.

"Just like you, dear candidate. It was a protest, really. The headmistress taught them RE and she was useless. The first year she never marked their papers. So the next year my friend did wavy lines and, sod's law, this year the headmistress decided to read them. Everyone thought she'd done no work, but really it was a protest. Dear candidate, I hope you are waving, not drowning."

Examining brings you closer to the candidates. It puts you, in a funny sort of way, on their side. You're in the confessional together. And sometimes they can make you think.

"They're all DWEMs, examiner, these writers! Dead white European males. And what's turning them on? Spenser and his Faerie Queen, his knights that prick o'er the plain. Where's he coming from then, examiner (as an intentionalist might question)? Prick, prick, prick. What's he after (as a Freudian critic might question)? And that Thomas Hardy, he likes to make them suffer, doesn't he, examiner, especially if they're young and pretty. Do you like that, too, examiner? I bet you do. It's one great canon of English literature, examiner, and I haven't actually read it, but it's nothing but a bag of wind, just about to go off pop, worshipped by pendants like you."

Now that one urgently needs a reply.

"Dear candidate, PEDANTS! (A caret mark there, to show something is missing.) Mere assertion. Give evidence. 'Thomas Hardy makes them suffer.' Who exactly? ('Eg' in the margin - give an example. Dotted line down the left-hand side and 'E' placed seriatim for inadequate expression.) 'The canon of English literature is nothing but a bag of wind.' Mixed metaphor. Cliche. Anything."

It can't be true. Can it?

Richard Daubney teaches in the South-east. He writes under a pseudonym * The next First Encounters will appear on June 19

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