What’s the hardest test of all? This had the biggest effect on me…

This post follows on from a Twitter conversation on what was the toughest exam; the architects Part 3, the structural engineers Part 3 or the adversarial PhD viva (current trump card by @SuButcher )

It may not have been the hardest exam of my life (I’d still rate that as the Architects Part 3) but the following exam story (the PADI enriched air (nitrox) test details here: DETAILS OF COURSE has probably had the most impact and influence.

A little bit of back-story first, after my wife and I married (Terry is OH btw), we took a trip around the world and one if the stop-offs was in Cairns,Australia where we learnt to scuba dive ( PADI Open Water). It was on this course that I first learned that my wife couldn’t tread-water; so as any madly in love,new husband would have done I hoisted her out of the water by the back of her swimming costume whilst I treaded water holding her up for the obligatory ten minutes.

Fast-forward a few more days and we were to take the written examination that tests you on the dive tables, safe diving depths and times-a subject that I was finding impossibly hard. So the night before the test whilst my wife was busy revising, I decided to go out for a drink and commendably my wife refused and buried herself in the dive tables and calculations.

Needless to say when the time of the test arrived, I had practically no idea and ( I admit) I had to resort to a little help from my better half for many of the answers.

Why did I decide to go out rather than revise? Looking back I think it was fear, knowing that I had little comprehension of the subject I deliberately decided that I’d already failed and would not be able to answer any of the questions.

Fast forward again more than fifteen years and whilst on a short break away with my mum (Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt), I had decided a few weeks earlier to take the PADI Enriched Air (Nitrox) course which was to be one of the five specialities on the way to PADI Master Scuba Diver. What I didn’t know was that an intrinsic part of the course was a multiple-choice test on a more advanced version of the dive tables and calculations which I had flunked fifteen years earlier.

So, with no wife (no disrespect but I don’t think my mum could have helped my on this tricky one), I did what I had to do…

I got the books out for the whole holiday and decided that I was going to master this subject if it was the last thing I do, I resolutely got the books out, learnt the subject, and worked through every example, worked through similar questions, I even made up my own questions to answer! They often say that you will learn from your kids and this is one example of such; where frequently my kids were coming home with perfect 100% test & exam results. I’d always thought of myself as an ‘average grade’ student but in this test I was determined that I was going to get every single question right.

The dive centre was run by strict German divers and the test was taken very seriously, I sat in a room, on my own, paper face down with a set time period to answer the questions. You may turn over the paper now…you know the drill!

Well, I worked hard through the paper, taking my time over the tricky calculations, rechecking my work, changing things that I needed to change. When finished the paper was taken from me by the Dive Instructor for marking; with each question he marked correct he said a guttural YES, every question answered correctly so far.

On the final question he said an ‘Ah’ followed by ” you appear to have got this one incorrect”, I checked over his answer and explained my answer (which incidentally was correct and he agreed that it may have been a translation problem from German to English?).

Even with this ‘error’ the minimum pass Mark for the test was 70% which was easily surpassed with a result of 95+%.

So what’s the conclusion of this story?

1. Never think of yourself as an average student, if you think you’re going to get an average result, the chances are you’re going to get an even lower mark.

2. YOU CAN GET 100%! as long as you work hard, revise and study well. You need to prepare so well that you genuinely believe that you can get ever answer correct.

3. It’s never too late to learn – it took me 40+ years to learn how to take a test properly

4. Don’t go out on the piss, the night before a test. It’s not the way to do well.

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