We are rapidly approaching examination season here in Scotland. The schools are on the final week of classes before “study leave” starts. Study leave, or freedom to do what you want, never happened in my day we kept attending classes until the exams started. It seems we did more papers in those days of a longer length pretty much one after the other. Once I got to university things become less rigid and more self-determined, so in some ways the current system means there is less of a jump in learning to self-study. Meanwhile the universities have been on study leave for a while now and the exams are starting soon (at least for my kids).

I am not sure my parents even knew when my public exams where when I went to school. I was brought up with the hands-off framework of independence and had to work out my own way apparently for my own good. While I managed to do fine in the end, I do think my life would have been easier if my parents could have supported in some way. For all I know they did try and I as a typical teenager might have said “it’s fine” when maybe it wasn’t. I was bright, the educational system suited me so exams for the first sixteen years of my life were easy. There was only one time when it all got too much. It was the year that I first took public examinations and the first hurdle was doing our mocks or as they say in Scotland prelims. I don’t know if it was the intensity of the exams or the pressure that I felt to do well but I become unwell and had some sort of breakdown. My mind went blank and I couldn’t remember anything.

I am tempted to say I had a meltdown and completely withdrew from the world but I only have vague memories about it. I do remember taking a week off school and just staying in bed for days. I think I may have missed a few of the exams but the school didn’t seem to be bothered. I was a straight A student (except for French) and they had enough past results not to worry about me needing an incentive to get better grades. At school I leant that if I knew my subject then there was nothing to fear from exams but as I progressed through the system at University it become more of knowing enough of the subject, gambling on topics and on occasion hoping for the best. I no longer had the ability to know and understand everything, sometimes it was enough to know something but occasionally there were courses where it became apparent from the exam that I really didn’t know very much at all (at least not what the lecture thought was important).

Like all the children that became parents before me, I was determined that my children would have a better experience of support in their education and exams. It wasn’t hard really. I have asked each of my children how they feel about the approaching exams and got what I would call “genuine” answers in reply. Where necessary I have listened to their struggles and helped them work out a way through the rocky patches. I have tried to teach them that perfection is not required, and that good enough is fine because the is more to life than getting perfect grades from exams. I have even told my kids that doing their best is fine even if they don’t pass the exam, it is the putting enough focused effort in that is important where enough still means they have a life when they are not studying because the best result will only come from a balanced life. I have told them that life will continue whatever the outcome of the exams and they will still do brilliant things. I believe it too, in case you are wondering.

When I think about it, I guess exams are only really a good indicated whether you will stay in the educational system. Looking for a job? Well I think experience and personality are more important nowadays and I even read about a success company this morning who purely recruits people on their personality types, CV be dammed. Perhaps public examinations don’t need to have as much emphasis on them as I was taught as a child. I certainly don’t think they are as life changing as I once thought they were.

Which neatly moves me onto another topic. It is sixteen years ago today that I underwent a successful liver transplant. The strange thing is that I had completely forgotten about it until my wife texted me during the Monday morning bike ride. I think in most ways it is fine to forget about the transplant in that it means life is not focused around that life changing event, life has moved on. Most ways is not all though. My anniversary means that yesterday was the anniversary of somebody’s death and I feel sad that I didn’t acknowledge that at the time. We are having a celebratory dinner tonight, though since it is my turn to cook this means ready-made meals from a more uptown supermarket. I will toast the donating family then but also remembering that if it wasn’t for the transplant, I wouldn’t have seen any of my children through their public exams.

If you have an exam coming up soon then try to relax, and best of luck. I think the same applies if you are having an operation too.