That Is The Question

When I was 17 I sat my Leaving Certificate English exam (the Leaving Cert is the big state-set exam that we all do at the end of secondary school, the points we get from which determine whether we can get into university and what courses we can do when and if we get there).

Every year on the English exam they asked a question about Yeats since he is Ireland’s greatest ever poet, so I made sure that I knew more about him than even his mother did (in fairness this wasn’t hard, she probably didn’t read his poetry any more than my family read my blog).

Anyway, on the morning of the English exam I took the paper and turned confidently to the Yeats question, read it calmly, then read it again, a little less calmly. By the third reading I realised that I was in trouble.

I couldn’t answer the question because I didn’t understand it. It was as if someone had taken a collection of common English words and hurled them at the page, like one of those artists hurling paint from a tin onto a wall. No matter how often I read it I had absolutely no idea what they were asking me to do.

It is unfortunate that I cannot reproduce the question here. Ask Google about the dinosaur or the paleolithic era and it offers page upon page of information, but ask it about the 1976 Leaving Cert English paper and it says sorry, history doesn’t go back that far. Admittedly it was 35 years ago, the exam paper was printed on papyrus and we wrote our answers on parchment using a quill made from the wing-feather of a dodo, but there were computers about, even if they were the size of a battleship and long division referred to the length of time it took them to answer. The question is lost, however, so you will just have to take my word for its impenetrable density, something like my own during the maths exam the following day.

In the end I had to answer the question on Paradise Lost instead, a poem which, because it was long and dull, I had read exactly once.

Of course I was young then. Years later, when I was about 30, I found the exam paper while I was clearing out a load of old stuff. I was now older, more educated and more widely read. I turned confidently to the Yeats question.

I still had no idea what it meant.

And why do I bring this bitter memory up today? Because I think I know now what became of the person who set that question. Yesterday’s suggested WordPress topic was “would you rather laugh with the sinners, or cry with the saints” and I have absolutely no idea what that means either.

So my tormentor from 35 years ago now works for WordPress as a topic setter.

And to make extra cash he ghost-writes spam comments.


8 thoughts on “That Is The Question

  1. Jo

    I think the idea there is that sinners have more fun. I don’t think it applies to the Milton/Yeats rock and hard place though. That’s a sad story. I have my own leaving cert English pain, Tinman. B3. Twice. Gah.

  2. Pseu

    I have an old ‘O’ level paper for art, while my Cyclomaniac husband has the maths and physics papers he took in about 1976 – but we can’t help on the old paper you are looking for. However I’m sure someone out there has a copy…
    Interestingly (to me anyway) I could probably do better on the art paper now then I did then. But I can’t make head nor tail of the maths and physics any more. (Who am I kidding? I never was much good.)

    Maybe you should write to ‘wordpress prompts’ asking if you could possibly be put in touch with your old exam setter who appears to be working for them? and while you’re waiting you can think of a myriad ways to wreak your revenge

  3. Pingback: Ufo? No, Me No Fo « The Laughing Housewife

  4. speccy

    I now have that problem with with sums. If it’s a written problem solvey thing I can work out what needs done, but when a child presents me with a page of numbers I’m doomed. That’s just a page of numbers that make no sense to me. Recent experience shows that I won’t even notice that she’s done adding when it should have been taking away, and vice versa.


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