Sunday, June 8, 2008

First time for everything

So, a month ago I was late for my first ever exam, the one I had set for my masters course.

As the course convenor I was obliged to be there at the start of the paper to make sure no students had problems along the lines of: “My exam paper appears to be missing/written in Chinese/the paper for another course/on fire, etc”. I also had to flip through the materials my students were allowed to bring in and check they hadn’t smuggled any forbidden knowledge in through notes in the margin.

It should be a reasonably easy thing to turn up to your own exam on time. Except, of course, the law school does not have its own exam hall and the central exam timetablers can send you pretty much anywhere. We also have a pretty spread out “campus”, which includes many anonymous-looking or poorly signposted buildings that could easily be just another office block.

Leaving - I thought - plenty of time, I set off in search of my exam. Despite the heat of the day (a rare full sun and 25 degrees centigrade in humid London), I’d worn a suit and tie. I think my idea was that students shouldn’t see me looking too relaxed while they had to face a masters’ exam. Whatever I had in mind, it didn’t work out well.

The street my exam was on was easy enough to find. No problem there. But as I wandered around the top of it, I noticed few building had numbers on display, and none of those numbers was high enough. I began to get edgy. I still had a few minutes up my sleeve, but not really enough to go back to my office, check details, and set out again.

I crossed a major road. The other side was a new street. I had a missing building on my hands.
Beginning to breath faster and perspire slightly, I pulled out my mobile to call my secretary. I say “my”, but she works for eight other people as well – mostly more senior than me. She has been around for a while though, and is a gold mine of practical information. Calling her would have certainly answered my problems.

If I’d had her number.

At this point, I did what any calm, collected young academic in a suit and hard-soled shoes would do in a crisis. I ran.

Three or four blocks later, dripping on the front desk at the graduate office, I panted out my problem and they pulled out the map of exam locations. I mentioned the street name.

“You do know that on that street the numbers run up one side to the main cross-road and then back down the other?”

Well, I did now. I’d showed up at the wrong end of the street. Good thing it was only another three or four blocks to run back.

I’ll say one thing about exam panic. At least it prevents LLM students noticing that their examiner, who’s seven minutes late, has just dried his shirt out by standing in front of the hand-drier in the men’s room.

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