Thursday 22 August 2019

Marisa Mackle: Exam nightmares and student stress

I didn't sit my Leaving Certificate. I slept it out, and then when I arrived to the venue exam hall late, I realised that I'd got the date and time wrong altogether. I didn't get into college or make anything of my life. I became a loser and a drifter, never got a job and my whole existence was a complete waste of time. At least that's how the dream goes. Or, rather, the nightmare that I have at least twice a year.

In the nightmare, I never sit my English exam. It's always my fault and I wake up drenched in sweat, taking a few moments to convince myself that none of that really happened. The weird thing is that I did sit my English exam, and I went on to get an honours degree in English, and, after that became a language teacher, a journalist and a novelist.

What's more, my work is required reading on an English literary degree course in Salzburg University. So why do I shudder every year when I see students going into exam halls? Why do I thank the Lord it isn't me?

I think there is far too much emphasis put on studying in this country. Yes, it's great that we have access to free education but the pressure put on students hoping to get to college is horrendous.

I wasn't the most academic of students. I excelled at languages because I enjoyed them but I couldn't have given a fig how many legs a cockroach had. I started dreading my Leaving in fourth year and worried about it so much that I left school at 16, went abroad and refused to sit my exams.

I eventually sat them just before my 19th birthday, scraping the points to do Arts in UCD. I would have liked to have done journalism but didn't get the points.

I have many writer friends who never sat a journalism exam. I also know people who were highly academic and got the points for medicine. They became doctors, hated the profession and have since dropped out. People go on to do things they don't want to do just because they get the points. And then they regret it.

Every May, I get students in foreign countries emailing me about my book. Preparing for their exams, they want to know what was going on in my head when I wrote it.

The truth is I do not know. You cannot dissect creativity. I feel sorry for students trying to figure out what was going on in my head. They will never get a satisfactory answer to that question. Because if I can't remember what was going on in my own head, how in the name of God can they?

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