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I shouldn't, really...

bricks stuffed in wall meme

I haven’t been doing my best. In fact, I have taken such a lax approach to life lately that I daresay I am jeopardising my future. This stark realisation hit me today during my final chemistry exam when I simply could not figure out a 9-mark pH question.

"I know I should feel bad about my lazy attitude. But I just don’t."

Now sure, every now and again we all come face to face with an exam question that simply will not let us win – for some this happens more often than for others. But I am usually one of the ‘others’. Not knowing the answer to a question, least of all where to begin, is not something with which I am familiar.

I realised a long time ago that the school system favours a certain type of person. We cannot condemn those who struggle to reach their full potential under a standard system of a one-to-many teacher relationship, emphasis on textbook knowledge and enough rules to stifle anyone’s creativity. I certainly do not take for granted the fact that I have found school undemanding, while so many have strained to achieve their academic goals. Neither am I saying this boastfully – it’s just the way it is. There are many people, like me, who sailed through high school on minimal effort, vague attention in class, and a healthy distraction with books, movies, odd activities and pretty much anything that has nothing to do with school.

It is simply not in my nature to stress, and so exam time for me is a necessary inconvenience that brings no anxiety, pressure or extra effort whatsoever. I think the last time I studied properly for an assessment was for my physics exam in grade 11. This attitude, combined with my demanding schedule with debating and public speaking, has meant that I spent my final school year dodging work and engaging in more colourful pursuits.

The first time I opened my Afrikaans textbook this year was on the morning of our June exam. I wasn’t in English class often enough to finish our setwork novel or drama, so I still don’t know what happens between Iago handing Othello the handkerchief and Desdemona dying. This past weekend before my chemistry exam, I was overcome with a craving to bake to my heart’s content and immerse myself in movies set in the Deep South. I therefore perfected my southern drawl and made a steamed lemon-ginger pudding, but completely abandoned what was objectively more important.

So you can imagine how I felt staring at this 9-mark question in the exam, knowing full well that had I actually opened my textbook, I would know exactly what to do. My physics exam a few days ago taught me that the go-to place when faced with a tricky question is the data sheet. I am so well-acquainted with this piece of paper that I could probably recite every formula there is on electrostatics. No doubt many a science student will have stared so long and hard at it that they began to see the mysterious blue light of question 10.2.1 in Physics Paper 1…

I do not know whether to feel shock, disappointment, or nothing at all. The trouble with me is that just as a difficult situation will not induce any stress, anger or frustration on my part, I do not feel those feelings even when I know I ought to. I know I should feel bad about my lazy attitude. But I just don’t. Even sitting in an exam and mentally subtracting the marks I lost to Oreo cheesecake and a Bayou-based criminal drama did not generate any feelings of guilt from my clearly malfunctioning emotional center.

I can only console myself that my work has taken a turn for the worse because it is no longer of any interest to me. Matric exams are a paradox - they are redundant and vital at the same time. Ultimately speaking, they are no longer necessary in that you are now past the stage of requiring perfected knowledge. In previous grades, you knew you had to do well because it would affect how you performed in the next grade. But now we know that 80% of what we are learning will not apply in our lives ever again, and even if it does, we will find it when we need it (Google, maybe?) Overarching all this self-justification, however, is the realization that in order to be taken seriously as a matriculant, we need the best marks possible. We need that National Senior Certificate in our hands and some of us want to be able to say, ‘I got 7 As’.

Well, alas, I think it is too late for me to obtain 'the best marks possible'. I can only hope that in ten years’ time I will look back with gladness and have reasons to smile that I chose culinary skills and a screen-based study of human behaviour over the particulars of the chemical composition of plant fertilizer.


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