Maths GCSE re-sit 22 years after first attempt



I have a C in GCSE maths. In fact I have an E, a D and a C in GCSE maths.

So why, 22 years after my first attempt, was I compelled to sit it again?

What was I thinking?

I am 38 years old, a full-time worker, a mother, a wife – it’s not like I am time-rich and yet I sacrificed what little free time I had between November to June to sit for hours and face my demon.

Maths has always been my nemesis. I shy away from anything remotely mathematical. “Words are my thing, not numbers,” remains my mantra.

It stems from my time in secondary school.

My maths teacher had worked at the school forever. Generations of pupils had been taught by this short, wiry north Walian with an academic beard and a hairstyle to match. Now he was tasked with having me in his class.

Some wag decades previously had given him the moniker Squareroot. A grammar school teacher with grammar school values. The type of man who thought nothing of launching a dusty wooden blackboard rubber at some poor soul at the back of class for no good reason.

It quickly became apparent to both Squareroot and the rest of the class that maths was not my forte. As he expertly flung the results of weekly test papers at me, it caught me full on in the face followed by his melodramatic yell with the devastating result of 45% echoing around the classroom. Oh dear.

This weekly humiliation continued for the rest of the school year. It became the stuff of corridor fodder – what mark was Squareroot going to issue her with this week? I’m sure behind my back, sweepstakes were being undertaken with dinner money exchanging hands. It was excruciating.

Image captionMaths lessons of 1988 were fraught with the danger of flying blackboard rubbers

An all time low of 18% hit me close to the end of term. I seemed to be getting worse despite Squareroot’s fury at why I couldn’t understand. In the end, he realised he was dealing with a complete no-hoper and abandoned the cause.

Unfortunately for Squareroot, he was to remain my teacher for the next two years and was only able to escape me when finally I was moved into a new class.

At 16 I sat my first maths GCSE scoring an E. Not bad considering.

I thought I’d give it another shot and in the November re-sits managed a D. And finally, after six years of maths hell, that long anticipated C finally landed in my grateful and relieved lap. The realisation that I would never have to think about maths ever again was sweet.

I did not suspect 22 years after that first attempt, I would find myself sitting GCSE maths again. But with a young child about to start school, I felt I had to conquer it and overcome my fear so I wouldn’t instil it into the next generation. And so I found a tutor, signed on the dotted line to sit the exam and hoped for B this time.

Work colleagues hooted with laughter when they heard and there was much mirth to be had when everyone around me had a go at one of the questions. The majority of them got the answer wrong. It seemed I was not alone.

All the while, my patient and intelligent tutor guided me through the fog.

A GCSE maths paper - with answer written beneath question
Image captionWhat was this question? Some kind of torture?

Exam day came around fast and having spent the previous two weeks locked in the kitchen, ignoring my family and engrossed in mastering quadratic equations and the like, I was ready.

The first half of the Edexcel paper was a breeze.

Then we got to question 19. And it was clear that the examiner had had a bust up with their spouse. The sweet, mild and expected questions that had up to this point dominated the exam paper was replaced with what can only be described as some kind of evil. A quadratic equation disguised as a probability question. I felt sick. The panic rose, and the clock started to speed up.

I was back to the nightmare of Squareroot’s class.

Needless to say, I couldn’t complete the paper. And the following week with paper two looming, my confidence remained at an all time low. Time ran out yet again and big mark questions went unanswered.

And now here I am waiting to see what I got. I just hope that I don’t drop a grade or two…

10 ways to get your graduation noticed


Image captionGraduating students in Bonn, Germany celebrate with classic hat-throwing. But is it enough?

This is the graduation season, with universities awash with gowns, photographers and ceremonial handshakes. But how are you going to get noticed in the sea of catering tents and pompous speeches?

1) It’s all about the hat: What is it about hats and graduations? Years of studying and you get to throw an impractical hat in the air. But the hat is the graduation scene stealer – either with a look-at-me message written on top or with rows of hats creating that symmetrical overhead photo opportunity.

Graduation hat
Image captionIf you want to get ahead get a hat: A graduate in New York sends a mortar board message

Even when there’s a ban on throwing hats, that becomes the story. The attention-grabbing graduation ceremony needs a hat with a message and ideally someone slipping over when they’re wearing it.

Hebei Academy
Image captionHebei Academy in China has a campus where Harry Potter might feel at home

2) Make your campus look like Hogwarts: Graduation is a curious mixture of ceremony, ritual, pseudo-religious imagery and young people feeling like they’ve achieved something against the odds. Which means there’s a lot in common with a Harry Potter adventure. Hebei Academy in China has brought this full circle. Last month’s graduation drew the world’s photographers because it actually looks like it’s been staged on a back-lot in Hogwarts.

Image captionA spaniel in the works: Fudge has been part of his owner’s academic “journey”

3) Bring a dog: Among the most photographed graduates this year must have been Fudge the cocker spaniel, pictured in his canine-size robes at his owner’s graduation at Edinburgh Napier University. “I know it seems eccentric, but Fudge has been part of my journey through uni since day one,” said owner, Jack Proctor. Fudge was unavailable for comment, but he is believed to be considering postgraduate studies if he can manage the fees.

George and Miko Kaihara
Image captionGeorge and Miko Kaihara had their graduation interrupted by the Second World War

4) Old people with a poignant tale: George and Miko Kaihara, now aged 90, were part of the Japanese community in the United States interned during the Second World War. It meant that they never got to graduate. But that was put right last month, when these two veterans of the Class of 1943 finally got to pick up their diplomas. This is a much more uplifting way of getting people to see your graduation than funny pictures on YouTube of graduates in high heels falling over.

Graduation Iranian police academy

5) Keep them guessing: Particularly tough nuns about to take out the geography department? A remake of Sister Act with a special forces theme? These were Iranian female police cadets showing their skills at a graduation ceremony a few years ago. It’s a little different from the “motivational” speech from the bloke from Norwich who sponsored the new sports hall.

Jon Bon Jovi
Image captionGown rock: Jon Bon Jovi shared some big ideas with students

6) Deploy an old rocker: “Our future starts in our past – but it doesn’t end there”. “Choose a direction and if the road turns – turn! If there is a fork in the road – take it! It’s ok to map out your future – but do it in pencil.” Wise, wise words from Jon Bon Jovi at Rutgers University last month. These philosophical insights were light work for a man who brought the world a breakthrough album called Slippery When Wet.

Obama at coastguard graduation
Image captionPresident Obama has a look of weary resignation for this James Bond-themed graduation picture

7) Famous face, awkward photo: You’ve got the US president at your graduation. Time for a serious face, full of respectful gravitas? Nope, an opportunity to pretend to be James Bond. President Obama went along with this Bond gag at a coastguard graduation ceremony. But that expression? Parent who wanted to be taken seriously forced to join in with the novelty dance at a teenage disco. Nice.

Emily Bruell in Colorado
Image captionEmily Bruell in Colorado tells the world she is gay

8) That big personal statement. Who can resist the perfect platform for a big statement? Friends and family are gathered, it’s a symbolic time of change, it’s a moment made for a big reveal. And so this year saw the coming out coming into the graduation hall.

More stories from the BBC’s Knowledge economy series looking at education from a global perspective and how to get in touch

9) Exit through the gift shop: Graduations have become merchandising opportunities. Part of the impact is now being felt, not just with a lump in the throat but with a substantial hit on the parental wallet. On top of the commemorative photos, outfit hire, food and souvenir mugs and T-shirts, there are now more upmarket souvenirs, such as graduation rings and jewellery. None of this fundraising feels as strange as some US colleges which offer university-themed coffins.

10) Toe-curlingly embarrassing dance routine: When they say something is going viral, it’s sometimes because it’s like a virus that makes you feel rather nauseous. Here’s the entirely spontaneous moment when students in Portsmouth, New Hampshire began to dance along to a Taylor Swift song. There’s something about organised fun that feels like you’ve been trapped in a terrible recurring nightmare.