The Numbers or the Right Method

A lesson I learned from my English tutor was one that I could have done with at the start of my adolescent exam career was this - they don't really care about the answer, but mostly about the demonstration of the method. I was told, for example, if a question had six marks for it five of them were for the working, and one for the right answer. If you know how to do it, show that, or show as much as you can, and then move on.

Note: this might not be the case anymore; I'm 20 years out of doing exams like that, so don't take this as advice - I am not liable for getting fails on your current exams.

Note 2: Joni and Etta will not be getting this advice.

This later bred into me a contempt for the memorising of the formulas that was needed for many exams. Later on, they would give us the formulas, but not the method, and that made more sense to me. This pervasive idea carried through to the University exams I hated with every single breath. Getting the "wrong" answer was way down in the priority list, and instead was the idea that you knew what to do and you'd at least payed a modicum of attention to the class.

This might have been my downfall in my only open book exam, where most of the year failed, but that's just me make excuses for the worst exam mark in my history.

I am reminded of this when hearing of the recent gaffes by Labour politicians. They get the numbers wrong - endless streams of numbers too, some dealt with more accuracy than others - and the spotlight the media then plays on these apparently disastrous mistakes. You can't remember how much money something's going to cost? Then let's set fire to you and your entire policy, never mind the fact that the alternative is a mortar launched at the heart of the welfare state.

It makes headlines and creates column inches/pixels and today that might all be that counts, but at the heart of the Election is a weird media in two minds about how to report it.

I am constantly reminded of the advice of my tutor; if there are three marks, split your answer into three separate sections, even if you think you can only answer two. Then, maybe, the marker will see the three ideas separate even if you're just rephrasing the same idea. This methodology probably got me my B in English, an upgrade from the fail I'd got in the prelim a few months earlier. When I hear answers that feature soundbites and manifesto waffle, I think that's what they are doing - I'll speak for a bit, maybe say some words, and then that's yer lot. On the recent debate, a questioner asked what is going to happen to the £350 million from the NHS we were promised - May's answer was that it was just a basic campaign bit and who cares, but it was structured like a real answer, and the questioner thought it was a good answer - the moderator was astonished.

I loved to manage to "cheat" - my favourite example being the realisation that in a maths exam the "simplified" form would always give the same answer as the long form of the same equation, meaning I could work out which one was the right multiple choice answer without doing any of the work - welcome to the 2017 General Election, where the Numbers are apparently more important than the Method.