- Market Lavington
- 27 Aug 2008
A couple of years ago I thought I'd change careers and as I had already worked in a land-based natural sciences field, had an earth sciences undergrad degree, post-grad land management and part of a masters in environmental management, horticulture seemed a good decision. I enrolled on a Level 2 course - I'd looked at the level 1 and after talking with people thought that my botany, soils (my 1st and 2nd thesis topic), and general plant knowledge was just about good enough as I've gardened all my life and had a specialist indigenous garden in South Africa, growing and selling plants.
I sat the first lot of exams in February, and incredibly most of us failed one set, and the national average wasn't much better - over 40% failure rate. This was incredible, and after all I'd sat 20-25 far longer and higher level exams I was a bit surprised as I'd only ever failed two before and those were off-topic for me anyway. I'm really an average student, nothing particularly brilliant about me. One of my fellow class-mates this year, an education consultant, very experienced and also a very knowledgeable gardener, also failed - we were even more incredulous!
After the last set of exams, results unknown yet, one of our invigilators expressed amazement at the time-frame for these papers - they'd overseen hundreds of papers yet never seen other subject students sit down and write from start to finish. Most students had time to read the paper over, think, write, think, draw, think, write, and then go back over to check things. And that got us all thinking about it. There IS no time to think about the answers for more than a few seconds so if one can't remember a name or word immediately it has to be ignored and move on. This is standard practice anyway, not to spend a lot of time on any one question or too long thinking, but there IS time to think usually. I've never written a paper I didn't have time to go over and make corrections or final additions, but then those papers were not just regurgitation of 'facts' to a pre-set methodology but had to show some thought and ability to synthesise answers around issues such as Environmental Feminism (really!).
Also, some of the answers are subjective: Lobelia erinus is a half-hardy apparently, not frost hardy; year after year here in Kent my Lobelia erinus go through the winter, under the snow. Admittedly protected by the lea of the house and they sometimes get frosted and die back a bit but someone in the depths of glorious Yorkshire would probably not be so lucky. So, under the time pressure I would forget that it's actually half-hardy and list it as hardy and therefore I obviously display "poor plant knowledge" (RHS Examiners Comments sheets). Perhaps it's just poor memory under the pressure of time.
We'd also like to know if there's an age or gender skew in the result percentages - if us older people with homes, children & grandchildren, working lives, lots of experience, a very wide scope of responsibilities and little spare time (not in my case so no excuses!), show any better or worse results? Has anyone done any stats on these or other issues, such as across the different modules?
I remember one exam set where we weren't allowed to write anything for
the first 5 or 10 minutes but just read through the questions, possibly
the Open University but I'm not sure after all this time.
Is it all down to memory? I know that if I weren't quite as pressed for time I'd be able to regurgitate more specifics! Even an extra 5 minutes. So, hands up all these geniuses who write these exams and to whom the examiners are giving full marks!! I would really like to know your secrets! [:'(]