Thursday, 21 May 2009

As easy as PI...

..or 3.1415926535897932384626433832795028841 to be more precise!

Right folks, just to let you all know I had my final maths exam this afternoon. Now for the ceremonial burning of the books (hopefully they will never be needed again!) A quick bit about the exam - I arrived, as I always do half an hour early. The room was locked so I stood outside trying to control the hyperactive butterflies in my stomach. It was hard to believe that a year’s worth of hard slog was about to be put to the test. I met this really sweet guy who looked even more nervous than me and we got chatting. He started to tell me that he suffered from OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) and when he got stressed he couldn’t help but scratch the exam paper until his nails broke. I hastily offered him some of my Rescue Remedy and hoped he didn’t sit near me.
Lots of other people started arriving and I tried not to listen to them talking about what questions might crop up. If there’s one thing I hate even more than people analysing the papers after the exam it’s people analysing them before!
It’s too late now to panic!..” I wanted to yell, “ should not be asking advice about Standard Deviation five minutes before the exam!!!"
A jolly (being sarcastic there) janitor arrived to unlock the door and like lambs to the slaughter we were all led into a stuffy, boiling hot room where we would spend the next 3 hours in numerical hell. Imagine my relief when I spotted OCD man heading for the room next door. Phew! After some administrative stuff - filling out forms and sorting people out with protractors and calculators (can you believe they didn't bring their own?!)- the exam papers were handed out. Cue stomach lurch. The first ten minutes of Paper 1 were a blur. I went into autopilot and tried to focus as well as I could. That was tricky with the bloke behind me sniffing every two minutes. I would have offered him a tissue except invigilator woman had asked me to remove everything from my desk except for my pen and paper. What did she think I had done - written formula on my Aloe Vera hankies? She wouldn’t even let me keep my Opal Fruits (sorry, Starburst) on the table for the dips in sugar level brought on by stress. Miserable old bat!
Paper two was tough. There was one particular question involving the Cosine Rule which baffled me for ages. I left it and went back at the end. With two minutes to spare I got an answer which looked right but don’t ask me how I got there! When invigilator woman announced "Time's up, please put your pens down" I resisted the urge to whoop loudly and start a Mexican wave. The relief of knowing the ordeal was over was immense.
I feel I did well with most of the questions, but you just never know with maths. You can make a simple error right at the beginning of a question and carry on without realising. This then has a ‘knock on effect’ to the rest of your answer meaning you lose points. I just don’t want to dwell on it or over analyse the papers because that’s a bit pointless really. I just want to forget about it now and move on to my next project - writing the sequel to “Bree McCready and the Half-Heart Locket”
My head has been swirling with ideas for my second novel for ages now but I have been forced to put any ‘serious’ writing on the back burner because my time has been consumed with so many other things, not least the studying for today’s big exam. I also had 5 hurdles to clear before I could sit the ‘Big One’ - assessments for each of the three units (which had to be passed in order to move on to the next stepping stone) and not one, but two punishing prelims. It’s not been an easy ride but I can breathe now and hope that I’ve done enough to secure a decent pass. There’s nothing more I can do - it’s out of my hands.

When I left university nearly six years ago I didn’t imagine ever having to sit another exam. During those hideous finals I was nearly four months pregnant and as sick as a dog. As if exams are not vomit-inducing at the best of times! I remember wondering why on earth it was called ‘morning sickness’ when the waves of nausea seemed to last all day and strike at the most unsuspecting times. I can recall the wobbly dizziness and rising bile as I prepared for the most important exams of my life. I was well prepared on the day of each of them. Not only did I have my spare pens and bottle of water (essentials for any exam) I was also equipped with a plastic bag (just in case the debilitating nausea turned into something more sinister and projectile) and a supply of Foxes Glacier Mints (the only thing that seemed to help alleviate the gut twisting nausea and stabbing heartburn - I tried crystallised ginger but it only burned like acid on the way back up). I also made sure I sat near an exit at all times.
Junior loves to hear stories about when he was a baby but his favourites are about the times before he was born. He giggles when I tell him about when I used to put the remote control on my pregnant tum and watch in amazement as the little person growing inside me would kick it off with one giant punch, or how his somersaults would cause the water to slap against the sides of the bath like a miniature tsunami. But he takes greatest pride in knowing he was with me during those important exams (even though he was only about the size of an avocado). And I forgive him for making me feel so utterly dreadful during them because he must have brought me some luck - I passed them all with flying colours.

It feels like not being gifted in the maths department has haunted my life. Let’s face it, even if I got an ‘A’ in today’s exam I will still have failed the ‘O’ Grade twice. Will I ever be able to shake that off that unwanted label?
Yes, your Honour I have a Diploma in Child Care and Education, a Degree from Edinburgh University, I’m a published author, teacher, have years of work experience and training under my belt and I’m a wonderful, dedicated Mother…but I failed ‘O’ Grade Maths twice
In order to get onto the Community Education degree I had to sit something called Core 3 and Core 4 Mathematics - the equivalent of somewhere between ‘O’ Grade and Higher at the time. I thought I had finally managed to exorcise my mathematical demons when I passed the course with a distinction. However 2008 was the last year that Moray House accepted this qualification for entry onto the Professional Graduate Diploma in Education and once again I found myself being faced with the task of getting my head around Quadratic Functions, Simultaneous Linear Equations, Trigonometric Identities and Algebraic Transposition (to name but a few of the delightful topics on the course). It seemed so typical of my luck that I just ‘missed the boat’ however I had little choice but to get on with it if I wanted to fulfil my ambition of becoming a teacher. Out came those dreaded books…again.
I am sincerely hoping that today was the end of my struggle with numbers. Perhaps now I can close this chapter of my life along with the pages of my Mathematics textbooks.
I am so proud of myself for never giving up on this personal and professional challenge. Trust me, there were many times when I came very close! When I had my book accepted for publication I was already 3 months into the open learning maths course. It was so tempting to throw caution to the wind and be seduced with the idea of spending my life as a writer. It’s all I’ve ever really wanted to do after all. But I kept my feet firmly on the ground and my head out of the clouds and I forced myself to stay realistic. I would need to have a back-up ‘real job’ to fall back on. Giving up on the maths would have been the easy option.
With Junior being so ill over the last few days (talk about bad timing mate!) I have hardly had any time to study and part of me had resigned myself to failing the exam today. But I kept going despite the temptation to pack it all in. I don’t think it’s even about having the qualification anymore. I think it’s more about being able to say I’ve actually finally managed to conquer this annoying incapability - “Hello, my name is Hazel and I’m rubbish at maths” Now, instead of saying “Yikes! Maths. I’m dreadful at maths!” I can maybe say “Yeah, Maths. I’m not too bad at that - I’ll have a go!
Who knows, maybe, even after this gruelling journey, and the climbing of some seriously challenging mountains I’ll still never be able to completely liberate the 14 year old girl who missed out on her ‘O’ Grade maths by 1%? I hope that come August/September (when I get my results) I can report back to you all with some good news. Keep your fingers crossed for me…and toes…and anything else crossable! I may need all the help I can get.

With my full philosophical rucksack I can only climb slowly up the mountain of mathematics
Ludwig Wittgenstein

Trigonometry is a sine of the times” - Author unknown

(Mathematics) is numbers you squeeze from your head to your hand to your pencil to your paper till you get the answer
Carl Sandburg

Do not worry about your difficulties in mathematics. I can assure you mine are still greater
Albert Einstein

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