This kind of stuff -- students buying pre-written essays to memorise and then regurgitate (and I use the verb advisedly) in their HSC exams -- has made me reflect on the olden days of last century, when I wor a lass, and my cohort had to sit a total of five, count 'em, five lots of public exams within three years.
In Intermediate (the year we all turned fifteen, the equivalent of Year Ten) we sat the exams for Commonwealth Scholarships for the last two years of school -- these were essentially IQ and general-knowledge tests, not things you could prepare for in any way apart from staying healthy and getting enough sleep -- and only a few months later we sat three-hour exams in each of eight subjects. The following year, Leaving (Year 11), we sat another set of three-hour exams in six subjects. And the year after that, we sat for another round of Commonwealth Scholarships, this time to university, plus more three-hour exams in five Matric (Year 12 / HSC) subjects, except for the exceptionally clever kids who did six because they could.
That's 60 hours of competitive public examinations over three years, in an era when there was no continuous assessment: your result for the year depended entirely on how you scored in the exams. And if you didn't pass a sufficient number of them, then that was it: you repeated the year or you left school.
Nobody cheated, perhaps partly because they were not the sorts of exams for which cheating of this kind would have been possible.
Then, of course, there were the university exams, by which time you could score at least part of your result through essays handed in during the year. Not much, though. And if in later years as an academic I ever got sick of my Honours students complaining about how hard they had to work, all I had to do to make them stop was tell them about the assessment for my own Honours year: two 12,000 word theses, plus four three-hour exams in a total of six different subjects, two of them (Practical Criticism and Shakespeare) compulsory. Like many of my mates in that year, I was by then living away from home and worked all the way through the exams, in my case washing dishes in a Greek restaurant. I was, however, alone in the charming experience of going to court about my no-contest divorce about halfway through the exams.
What's more, I walked five miles to school and university barefoot in the snow. And I think you should all get off my lawn.
Still Life With Cat is an all-purpose blog containing reflections on whatever is going on in the realms of literature, politics, media, music, dinner, gardening etc. Its original incarnation is Pavlov's Cat (2005-2008).
Read, Think, Write is about all things books and writing, and incorporates Australian Literature Diary (2005-2010) and Ask the Brontë Sisters (May-July 2007).
Blogs are by Kerryn Goldsworthy, a writer, critic and editor who lives and works in Adelaide, South Australia.