No. 13 – How Did My Final Two Years At Secondary School Go?

My fourth year at Airdrie Academy, which began in August 1966, was the first year with external exams at its end. The results of these exams would be the first thing that would appear on any application I made to start a career or to go to college or university when I left the academy after another two or three years.

I felt that I had to plan out what I wanted to do with my life as early as during the first half of fourth year, so I had plenty of time to prepare to obtain the necessary qualifications for whatever it was I decided that I wanted to do.

The computer age was in its infancy, only big companies had computers, which, in some instances, took up the room of a whole floor of a building.

The computer I am using to write this blog in my bedroom, is 100 times more powerful than the computer that controlled the moon landing in 1969. The Internet and Smart Phones hadn’t been thought about. If I had known how the computer industry was going to change the world during the time of my working life, I may have chosen to study programming, but I didn’t know then, nobody knew then, what we all know now, and I decided, after going to a few seminars with Dad, that I would become a Chartered Accountant, the equivalent to a C.P.A. in the States.

I’d start the training for that by joining an office straight from school and attending night and weekend classes, rather than going to university first, which I didn’t really want to do. I needed at least 4 “Highers”, which were taken after the fifth year, or, if needed, the sixth year, and 6 “O” levels, which were taken any time from the end of the fourth year on.

As Arithmetic was an “O” level exam on its own, and the Maths exam would not contain any purely arithmetical questions, the following May I would sit 6 “O” level exams. Arithmetic, Maths, English, Geography, Science, and French. It took me a long time to decide on Science, which consisted of Physics I and Chemistry I, over pure Physics which would have consisted of Physics I and Physics II. I was not confident that I could pass Chemistry II, so the choice was between Physics on its own or a combination of the two easier papers.

After much consultation with the two teachers involved, I decided that the combination of the two subjects was the safer option. I didn’t want an exam failure on my record. That left French as my only fear of failure, but I thought that I needed at least one foreign language to my credit, so I gambled on French rather than trying all four Science papers to get Physics and Chemistry separately.

My only other fear was my writing speed. My handwriting wasn’t the neatest in the world, but it was legible, just. However, compared to other pupils, I was very slow, and the fact that my left hand, with which I wrote, got tired very quickly did not help matters. The exams were three hours each, sometimes two in one day. A full day of writing at top speed to get all my thoughts and ideas onto paper worried the hell out of me. It was before the days of multiple-choice questions and everything from English essays to complicated algebraic equations had to be written out by hand.

However, I had managed okay in previous internal exams and my teachers were sure that I could cope. The week and a half of exams in May were a traumatic experience, but mid-way through June I received notification that I was now the proud “owner” of 6 “O” level passes, even French. There were no grades in “O” levels, you either passed or failed, end of story. And I was lucky enough to have passed all 6 exams. How I got a pass in French is still a mystery to me, to this day. In one part of the exam, a busty young twenty-something-year-old French mademoiselle from another school read us a fifteen-minute simple story in French, and we then had to answer several questions in English about the story. I can remember that one of the questions was, “What color was the bus?” “What bloody bus?” I thought to myself, but I remembered that the sexy storyteller had said “bleu” at one point, so I answered “blue” and, presumably I fluked the correct answer.

During the summer break, between my fourth and fifth years, I realized that I had another nine months of hard study ahead of me. I managed to keep doing my paper round, which involved getting up at 5 a.m. 7 days a week, and an hour in the evenings during my fourth year, including during the exams. However, studying for “Highers” was going to be even harder than studying for “O” levels, notwithstanding that I would drop French and there wasn’t an Arithmetic “Higher” exam.

I found a job in the paper, delivering about 150 “Readers Digests” once a month all over Airdrie. If I spent one Sunday afternoon putting the magazines into pre-addressed envelopes and sorting them into one of five “rounds” I could deliver them all by bicycle in five evenings of two hours each and have the other three weeks of the month free. Not only could I study later into the evenings, because I didn’t need to get up so early, I doubled my monthly pay as well. So, all, in all that was a good move, although the owner of the paper shop wasn’t so happy.

That year flashed by, and suddenly it was exam time again. After my “O” levels I was confident that I had passed everything except French, which I was doubtful about, although it worked out okay in the end. After my four “Highers” I was only sure about Maths and Geography. I was doubtful about Chemistry, even though it was only paper I. If I had failed that I would have failed Science, even though I was sure I had passed Physics. I should have taken Physics II instead of Chemistry I”, I thought to myself after the Chemistry exam was over. English too, was a doubt because my lack of writing speed made me cut my essay shorter than I wanted. An extra thirty minutes would have been helpful.

I had already had an interview with a Chartered Accountant’s firm in Glasgow and had been offered a job on minimal wages as long as I had passed the four “Higher” exams and therefore could enroll for the Scottish Institute Of Chartered Accountants five-year training scheme. But for the present, all I could do was wait and see if the markers of the English and Chemistry papers were kind to me or not.

While I waited for the results, I did manage to finally play sport for the school. I played cricket, I think twice, for the school’s 2nd XI. In one game, at another school, I played as the wicket keeper and caught somebody from the very first ball of the game. After that, I played terribly.

Then, when it was our turn to bat, I hit a very good drive and, as I ran, I was looking at the ball being fielded and ran over the stumps at the other end of the wicket. I was given out “hit wicket” My own team laughed from the boundary, but I knew that I shouldn’t have been out, as my wicket was 22 yards away. I argued with the umpire who I learned was a young Geography teacher, not much more than 4 years older than myself. The I.M. lesson in this is that if you disagree with someone’s post in social media or on a blog, make sure of your facts and be absolutely certain that you are right before you air your views. I finally convinced the young Geography teacher that he was wrong, but it did little good, as I was out the next ball I faced, and this time I couldn’t argue.

Two weeks after the semester ended, the results arrived by post, and the news was all good. “Highers” results unlike “O” levels were graded, and much as I anticipated, I got “A” grade passes in Maths and Geography, a “B” grade pass in English, and a “C” grade pass in Science. Perhaps a bit of consultation went on behind my back regarding my English grading, I don’t know, and perhaps I could have turned my “C” grade pass in Science into a “B” or even an “A” if I had taken Physics II instead of Chemistry I. Who knows? All I knew, was that in The Institute’s eyes, a pass was a pass, and I had four of them. So, on the 12th of August 1968, less than a month before my 18th birthday, I got on the train to Glasgow to start the next stage of my life, which had nearly ended a few hours after I was born.

The main I.M. lessons of my last two years at secondary school is to work hard, be patient, and don’t expect success to be instantaneous. It took me seven years at three primary schools and five years at secondary school to earn two pieces of paper. Yet, I still had five, or as it turned out, six years to go before I made any significant money. So if it takes you three years or more of hard work before you can call yourself a successful Internet Marketer, don’t be surprised or disappointed, be happy.

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