Fear of 4 Wheels – Part 11

I feel like I should publish a post that isn’t part of this series, to break all the Fear of 4 Wheels posts up. However, I’m not going to!  I’m writing this on the 27th June, which has been a very, long, day.  Both myself and Greté woke up very early today.  Both for different reasons.  For me, today was my driving theory and hazard perception test day.  I’ve not really slept well for the past few days, and this morning I was up at 6:00am.  Given the success of yesterday’s drive home, and the quiet roads, I thought I’d give driving in to the office a shot.

I jotted this paragraph down when I got to the office.

I’m sitting here feeling pretty bloody good about myself, so I thought I’d throw down a few words.  I’ve been employed since I left university in 1993, but today, 20 years later, is the first time I’ve ever driven myself to work.  Greté was with me obviously, but I did the actual driving.  It’s pretty empowering, I can tell you (although I probably don’t have to, since you can all drive).

I’ll be honest, it felt even better than it sounds.  The roads were quiet, but there was still plenty of traffic, and despite a couple of white vans trying to run me off the road when their lane merged into mine, it was a good drive.  No mistakes, a couple of confidence issues, but lots of mirror use and plenty of control.  I was buzzing when I got to work – I was also shaking, so I had some shortbread that a colleague had brought in.  I think the shaking was part adrenaline, part low sugar (concentration burns my sugar faster than you might imagine).

Work itself dragged – because I knew at 6:00pm, twelve hours after getting out of bed, I had a theory exam to take in the centre of Nottingham.  I made sure we were there early, and I didn’t drive.  Thankfully Greté is used to and puts up with my tendency to arrive 2 hours early for everything I do, although we were technically only 1 hour and 15 minutes early.  We grabbed a coffee in Costa, bought a spare umbrella (yeh, thanks rain), wandered around for a bit, and then I headed in to the test centre.  As usual, I was more nervous about the procedural aspects of the test than I was about the actual test.  You know what my biggest worry was?  Would I have to pay for a locker or would they be free, and if I had to pay, did I have the right coinage.

Yeh, welcome to my head.

Luckily, lockers were free, the staff were great, the instructions were clear and about an hour after going in, I left.

This is the first exam that’s mattered since I left university in 1993.  So not only 20 years of employment and driving in for the first time, but 20 years since I sat an exam that could change my life.

The multi-choice was fine, there were 2 questions I’d never seen on topics I can’t remember reading about (minimum distance between you and the car in front when stopping in a tunnel, and another about soft tarmac), and out of the 50 I got 2 wrong (I found out later).  I’m tempted to think it was those 2 I got wrong, but it might not have been.  The hazard perception test was just, stressful.  You get no feedback as you go, and it’s possible to click too much or in the wrong way and score 0 points even if you spot the hazard.  The lack of feedback is simply terrifying and by clip 15 I was essentially a gibbering wreck.  The massive headphones didn’t help, and I was approximately too fucking hot by the time I left.

Was I clicking too much?  Was I somehow accidentally clicking in a mysterious pattern that the software would think was cheating?  Let’s face it, all software sucks, so it’s entirely possible it could get it wrong.

I walked from the test room with no clue if I’d passed or not, but by the time I got to the desk, the results were printed out and handed to me.  The member of staff doesn’t tell you if you’ve passed, so I had to read the certificate, about 3 times, before I convinced myself that I had.

I had passed my theory test.

I had successfully, passed, the theory and hazard perception test.

I have two years in which to apply for and pass my practical exam now.  I’m pretty sure my instructor is going to suggest I book a date in late August or early September at next week’s lesson (assuming she’s well).

It’s still only slowly sinking in.

The good news is that I can finally stop worrying about whether I need a stabilising bar when towing a caravan.


Funny story about exams

There’s a debate going on today about exams, due to Gove’s ‘leaked’ memo.  Apparently, Gove wants to return to the more traditional O Level style end of year exams, and people are now debating the merits and working out if GCSE’s are ‘easier’.

Some GCSE’s have a significant coursework component, while O Levels tended to be decided by a single exam after two years of learning (you sometimes got a go at ‘mock exams’ half way through).  It’s not, therefore, easy to compare the two in my view.  The important question is, do the kids know the same stuff at the end of it, in which case, surely they’re comparable?

However, for me that’s not even the deciding factor.  I did O Levels and some CSE’s, and then I went on to do A Levels.  At A Level, a significant portion of my Computer Science course was a written project.  You had to pass that as well as the exam to get the grade.  This was a revelation to me after the exam only O Level approach.

Even more surprising was when I did my Computer Studies degree and found out that a very large percentage of my overall grade was as the result of my thesis at the end of the fourth year.

Nothing I had done at O Level had prepared me for either of those two situations.  I hadn’t been taught how to write a thesis, I hadn’t been taught how to write 4000 word reports on the implications of social change as a result of computing change.  I’d done English at school of course, and some of that was focussed on how to write, but it wasn’t how to write scientific or investigative papers.

Then I left University and got a job in the real world – and do you know how often, in my ~20 years of working I’ve had to sit an exam to complete a piece of real work?  Never.  How many times, however, have I had to learn something, understand it, investigate it, and then write about it?  All, the bloody, time.

My job, in the IT industry, is to write.  I write analysis, problem investigations, root cause documents, plans, explanations, suggestions, solutions, recommendations, etc., etc.  I don’t sit exams.  I write critical reports.

If we want to teach our kids how to do well in jobs, then we should be teaching them how to learn, how to use what they have learned, and how to write about it.  It’s not just the IT industry, nearly everyone in a white collar job writes reports of some kind of another.  Take that away, push kids back towards plain ‘learning for 2 years and then seeing how much you can remember at the last minute’, and I think we may be taking a step in the wrong direction.

Sure, check and ensure GCSE’s are still fit for purpose, make them hard enough that they stretch kids who need to be stretched, make them interesting and challenging, but don’t take away the ‘course work’ component.  Because that’s the closest thing to real work there is.