One’s school life seems to be full of examinations. If it’s not external examinations, then it’s internal examinations and if it’s not internal examinations then it’s tests and more tests and .... even more tests.
Every teacher kept or should have kept a mark book. In it were entered the marks a pupil obtained for his homework, for his tests and whatever else the teacher decided. In a term where there were end of term examinations, these marks counted as much as the examinations for one’s form position that term. In a term when there were no examinations, the form positions were based entirely on these marks.
There are two ways to calculate such a form position. One is to add up the percentage mark a pupil has gained in each subject and then find the average, arrange them in descending order and you then have the form positions. The second method is to add up the positions in class that a pupil obtained for each subject and arrange them in ascending order to determine the class position.
Both these methods have their pluses and minuses. The disadvantage of the first method is that in one subject the teacher might mark more strictly and the marks would range from 20 percent to 60 per cent. In contrast, with another teacher, the marks might range from 40 per cent to 90 per cent. This inequality in the range of marks can be corrected using suitable graphs to standardise the marks.
The second method has the disadvantage that the top pupil in a certain subject may have gained 90 per cent whilst the second pupil only 50 per cent. Yet despite this great difference in marks, the top pupil is only one point above the next pupil when calculating the form position. Carmel College used this method to calculate the form positions.
One year a form teacher (of a class other than mine!) asked me to work out the form positions in his class. I did several hours of work using the method of percentage marks. After I had finished and given him the results, he came to me and said that all my work was wasted and so I then devoted some further hours and did the calculations on the basis of positions in each subject.
A problem in calculating the form positions was that of Religious Instruction, since here the subjects were streamed differently. Originally, a boy coming bottom in a higher set would automatically be placed above the boy coming top in the next set below. If one thinks about this, one can immediately see a serious flaw. A boy in a higher set could get a very low mark, (in theory, even zero), yet he would be placed above a boy in the next lower set getting a very high mark, (in theory, even one hundred per cent). After some years, this was corrected and in the new method, the actual mark obtained by a boy was reduced to three tenths of his mark and a bonus added - the higher set, the greater the bonus. In this way, a boy in a lower set who worked hard, would end up above a boy in a higher who slacked.
It is usual to calculate form positions only on the basis of academic subjects. A subject such as Art, in which generally one can do well, or alternatively, not do well however much one tried, would not be taken into account when working out form positions. For some reason, Carmel College was different in this respect and Art was counted in the same way as English or Geography. I came in the category of not being able to paint or draw. Apart from one “freak term” - (I don’t know how this happened!) - I always came towards the bottom of the class in Art and this pulled down my overall form position.
As a rule, end of term examinations were held twice a year - in December and July. The question papers were as a rule duplicated, with most teachers having their papers typed on a stencil and then run off, although there were a few teachers who would write them in their own handwriting on to the stencil. For some reason which I never understood, the Biology teacher, Mr. Rose, would go around each class and write the questions on the blackboard.
Before each session of examinations, we would be given a timetable for them. Should a paper have been of short length, for the remainder of the time, we had to remain in our classroom and revise for our exams still to come.
Examinations are not only knowledge but also technique. One must maximalise one’s time on learning that which is most likely to turn up in the exam. On at least one occasion, I took an exercise book and divided it into subjects. Teachers would usually tell us what to revise for in preparation for the exam and sometimes even drop hints on what they were going to ask. I would immediately write this down all this information in my exercise book.
The paper on which we answered the questions was file paper which had been specially marked by Mr. Coles. He would take reams upon reams of this paper and with a brush go from top to bottom over the top edge of this paper with a bluish copper sulphate solution. This left an easily identifiable mark several millimetres deep on the top edge of each sheet of paper. Only such paper could be used in these exams. Boys were however, allowed to bring in rough paper for their rough work.
After about my first year at Carmel, I started to keep the various question papers on these examinations and after a time I opened a file where I placed them. If a teacher would write the questions on the blackboard, I would copy them out and insert them into my file. I likewise opened a file for my external examinations, which even continued to my degree final exams. The latter file I still have in my possession, although the school examination file was thrown away long ago.
As I look back, I still remember a number of events here and there regarding these end of term examinations and I shall now relate some of them.
When the timetable for my first summer term examinations (1954) was published, we saw that it included “general science.” We had not learned scientific subjects in the second form and some of us assumed that this would be a paper to test our general knowledge on science. However, this was obviously a mistake, since no such exam materialised.
After marking his History paper that year, the teacher, Mr. Gavron, went through the papers with the class. He said that two boys had written a very good essay on Henry VIII, but since the question had asked for Henry VII, they received no marks for it. At least one of the boys thought it was unfair but it is of course quite logical - one has to answer the question set!
At the end of my first term in the third form, I became ill after the first day of the examinations - not as a result of the examinations! I entered up in the sanatorium and took no more exams that session and was therefore “unplaced” in the form positions.
The procedure was that after a teacher had marked a paper, he would officially hand over the results to the form teacher. That year Mr. Carmel was our form teacher and he told the class that the Biology teacher had not handed him such a list. He had however found a list of these results on the table of the staff-room and he was using them, even though he had officially not received them from him.
It had also been planned to have examinations at the end of the following term. But no-one knows when a mass epidemic will strike and it indeed struck just before these examinations. As a result they were cancelled. When informing us of this, Mr. Carmel added that there was “a sting in the tail.” In order to set form positions, teachers would be giving us tests until just a few days before the end of the term. Some teachers gave us their intended exam paper as a test. One teacher told us the questions he was going to ask us and a few days later decided to gave us these questions as a test.
On one occasion, when I was in either the third or fourth form, there appeared on the exam timetable a two hour paper on Religious Instruction and Modern Hebrew - I think they were intended as one hour each. However they were given out together. One was set by Mr. Roston and it could be finished in about a quarter of an hour. The other one was set by Mr. Gertner and it took well over an hour to answer. It was therefore fortunate that we received them together!
In the first term of the fourth form, there was a separation into an arts stream and a science stream. I was then in the arts stream. One of our subjects was German which was taught by Mrs. Whitfield. In German there is an “umlaut” - two dots on top of many of the vowels. When using an “English” typewriter, which normally does not have an umlaut, one types in the letter “e” instead. This indeed the typist had done and had then duplicated a paper for each pupil. However, Mrs. Whitfield, who was extremely conscientious went through every paper and crossed out this “e” and put in an umlaut in its place. I should add that Mrs. Whitfield’s exam papers both in German and French were very long. It must therefore have taken her countless hours to have made these corrections. She also left a sample paper on the teacher’s desk in case anything was not clear in her corrections.
That year there was a misprint in the Maths paper, making one of the questions impossible to solve. This was one of my best type of questions and I spent a long time trying to solve it, which obviously I couldn’t. There is a definite time to answer an exam paper and I therefore lost valuable time to answer the other questions. I felt that in all fairness this paper should have been cancelled and an alternative one set. But it wasn’t. In addition, I misread one of the numbers in another question, which was also one of my favourite questions. I therefore received zero for that question - I cannot blame anyone for that - it was my error. The long and the short of it was that in that exam which should have been one of my best ones, I received a poor mark.
I don’t recollect the exact details, but some boys got hold of the questions in Mr. Schmidt’s Geography paper. But it didn’t help them. Without saying anything, Mr. Schmidt just changed in ink on every question paper details of the questions. For example, when the question asked to write about a particular country or city, he changed the name to a different country or city!
Pupils are always invigilated during an exam. This is the rule but to every rule there are exceptions. Our exception was a Chumash exam set by Rabbi Rosen. He sat us in the library, gave us the question papers and said that he trusted us without an invigilator. To the best of my knowledge, all the boys did the paper honestly.
Many pupils in my class took O-level English and Elementary Mathematics in the summer term of the lower fifth. Every summer, whilst some classes would be taking external examinations, other classes would be taking their school examinations. Since we were taking some O-levels, we hoped that we would therefore not also be burdened with the school examinations.
At first, we understood that this would be the situation. But we were soon disabused of this. Mr. Bunney, the Physics teacher, came into our class and said quite clearly that neither Mrs. Whitfield, the French teacher, nor himself were prepared to forgo their end of term examinations. In the middle of our O-level, there was a day without exams and these two utilised it to its fullest extent - and I literally mean “its fullest extent.” Not only did Mrs. Whitfield gives us two papers in French - in the break between two papers, she, in addition, managed to squeeze in a French dictation.
Mr. Coles, who I think would not have insisted on a Chemistry examination, also gave as one, but on a different day. Dr. Friedmann, then said he would give us a History exam, but in the end he didn’t.
The following year was our main O-level year. Often in such a year in the December exams, the pupils are given O-level papers. Mrs. Whitfield had planned to give a past French O-level paper which consisted of a story she reads out twice and the pupils then have to write it out, and also a passage to translate into French. However at the last moment, she discovered that she could not find the text of this story. She therefore went out, searched for it vain and in the end utilised a different story. Meanwhile some of the time for the exam had gone and so she had to cut down the length of the passage that we had to translate into French.
That summer we took the majority of our O-levels. It was the policy of Mr. Coles not to enter pupils for O-level Chemistry who were studying for A-level in that subject. As a result of this, he set us a Chemistry exam that year. However to make it easier for us, this was done several days before we began our O-levels.
In the sixth forms, the vast majority of the timetable was taken up by the A-level subjects and these subjects were the only end of term exams that we took. As one got closer to these exams, the teachers would usually give past A-level papers as their school exam papers.
This was indeed done in Physics. However since there had been some changes in the syllabus since the setting of the paper which Mr. Bunney had intended giving us, he had to make a change in one of the questions. Instead of asking us how we would measure the Newton’s gravitational constant G, he changed the question to read how would we measure the mass of the sun. (No, one can’t weigh it on the bathroom scales - the method is far more indirect. This reminds me of an incident related to us by Mr. Bunney. Some visitors came into the Physics laboratory and he told them that the boys were measuring the wavelength of light. “But where is the ruler?” asked the visitor!)
For the summer exam, when we were in the lower sixth, he wanted us to do the paper which the present upper sixth were then taking for their A-levels. He went into the exam room in order to tell the candidates not to show us the paper. However when he saw the paper, to his consternation saw that it was much harder than in previous years. As a result he gave us a paper from a previous year instead.
Mr. Coles, however, did not utilise past A-level papers for his school examinations. He had his own supply of papers which he had headed (as far as I remember), “Advanced and Scholarship Level Paper in Chemistry.” These papers consisted of four sections, namely, inorganic chemistry, organic chemistry, physical chemistry, and general chemistry. Pupils had to answer at least one question from each section.
These were the internal examinations whilst I was at Carmel but before I deal with the external examinations, let me relate another examination we were periodically given. This was a test in general knowledge arranged, and I assume also written, by Rabbi Rosen. The first exam of this sort was very long and we had to answer on our own writing paper. I recollect the first question gave a list of different office holders in England and we had to write the order of precedence they had in England.
Rabbi Rosen afterwards glanced at our answers and the following day at the end of dinner, he came into the dining hall and gave out the papers for us to mark. He commented that we did not know how to answer this question on precedence.
During subsequent years, there were periodically further such exams, which were brought around for us to answer during our prep periods. They were shorter than the first one and we answered them on the question paper. The favourite type questions included giving the authorship of various musical symphonies and concertos, such as the “Unfinished Symphony,” and identifying prominent people. Sometimes non-existent people were included and anyone writing anything against their name, for example, “a French politician” would lose a mark.
On one occasion, a question asked who “Yitzchak Ben-Zvi” was. (He was then President of the State of Israel.) One boy answered “the Messiah” and when his classmates heard about this, they were in fits of laughter. [Actually his answer was not so silly. He had muddled him up with Shabbatai Zvi - a false Messiah. I wonder how many of those who had laughed at him, had ever heard of Shabbatai Zvi!]
Mr. Stamler also set the school a general knowledge exam but it was on Judaica. Included in it was identifying people in Jewish history from Biblical to modern times. There were also included in this list non-existent people, such as “Hotzmach.”
Now we will move over to the external exams taken at Carmel College. In England there were a number of Examination Boards for such external examinations. Generally speaking, there existed a geographical distribution of the Boards over England. Carmel used the Oxford and Cambridge Schools Examination Board. These public examinations consisted of Ordinary level (O-level) which were usually taken by pupils in the fifth form; Advanced level (A-level), which were usually taken in the upper sixth form; Scholarship level (S-level) which were usually taken in the third year sixth form. The S-level was, in most subjects, the A-level papers plus a more advanced S-level paper, and it was usually taken by pupils wanting to gain a state scholarship.
The examinations in foreign languages routinely set by this Board were limited and included French, German, Italian, Spanish, Welsh and Irish. If one wanted some other language or subject, one had to apply to the Board for the papers to be specially set. It wasn’t free - the school had to pay for it. Carmel wanted each year O-levels in Classical Hebrew and also a Hebrew alternative to one of the regular Scripture Knowledge papers. In some years, there was also A-level Classical Hebrew.
It also came to my knowledge that at least on one occasion there was O-level Modern Hebrew and I managed to get hold of a past set of papers, and I observed that they were very easy indeed. I accordingly spoke to a number of boys and found a great interest in wanting to take this subject. I then spoke to the school about having a paper set that next year. Mr. Stamler then told a boy that on one occasion when they had set it, it was so difficult that even the teacher was looking up words. It was as a result of these complaints that they had on the next occasion set the very easy paper which I had obtained from the Board. In the end nothing came of my initiative to have it set that year. In fact if you took Classical Hebrew, the Universities would not recognise Modern Hebrew as an extra O-level.
One had to pay to take any O-level or A-level. As I remember the price was seven shillings for an O-level and one pound for an A-level. Since Carmel was a private school, the parents had to pay these costs. A pupil at a state school would not pay.
All the administrative work concerning these examinations was done by Mr. Coles. The various subject teachers would decide whom they wanted to enter for their own subject and pass on their list to Mr. Coles. The names were then entered up on a large broadsheet with details of the names of the pupils, their birthdates and the subjects they were being entered for. Under the regulations, pupils who were under 16 could only take these examinations with the consent of their headmaster. This seemed to be more of a formality, since all this involved was the Headmaster signing just once for all such pupils in his school, at the bottom of this broadsheet.
Once the broadsheet was ready to be sent up to the Secretary of the Board, Mr. Coles would go through the list, boy by boy, checking his personal details and the subjects he was entered for. Amongst the personal details of the boys, were their full names and this, sometimes included names which their friends did not know they had, and perhaps more to the point, the boy would prefer them not to know! I recollect that one boy had the middle name “Jack” and when this was read out, his classmates thought this was very funny!
A problem which arose was that this Board also set papers on Saturdays. Carmel College was allowed to take these papers on Sunday. On the weekends when this was implemented, no boy was allowed to enter the school from the time the paper was taken on Saturday by the non-Jewish schools and the time it was taken on Sunday by Carmel College. It was also forbidden to use the telephone during this period. The school was effectively in quarantine.
In connection with this, there were some interesting situations. There were some non-Jewish day boys studying in Carmel who lived in Wallingford. When one of them was entered for a Saturday paper, which Carmel was taking on Sunday, this non-Jewish boy had to come to the school on Saturday morning before the exam was taken in other schools and sleep over in Carmel that Saturday night.
These non-Jewish boys had classes in Christian Scripture and there was an occasion when this paper was set on a Saturday. There was no reason for them not to take this paper on Saturday and a classroom and non-Jewish teacher was set aside for them to do so. Exams were thus being taken in Carmel all seven days of the week!
[I had a friend in Edgware who studied at the City of London Boys School and they also used this Board. I once asked him what happened about Saturday exams. He told me that they were allowed to take them on Sunday after having signed a declaration that they had not been in contact with anyone taking the exam on the previous day.]
Sometimes due to internal timetabling arrangements, a paper programmed by the Board to take place in the morning, took place in Carmel in the afternoon and vice versa. During such days, these “quarantine” arrangements were in force in Carmel.
Mr. Coles informed the school that should a boy need to make a telephone call, for example, in connection with his travel arrangements, he would have to make it in the office, in the presence of the school secretary. Similarly if a boy had a dental appointment in Wallingford, he would have to go down accompanied by the Matron.
The Board built its timetable on the basis that a pupil would not take a “peculiar” combination of subjects. But some boys in Carmel did have such combinations. One boy had for his A-levels a combination of arts and science subjects - I believe it was Maths, Physics and History. There was a day when each of these subjects had a paper and as a consequence those taking History had to take their paper from five o’clock until eight o’clock at night.
There were some cases of O-levels when Mr. Coles explained that it was impossible to fit everything in and some boys just had to drop an exam.
Mr. Coles had prepared a large portable board on which was attached the various information concerning these external exams. It included the detailed timetable for these exams, together with any special internal instructions, and the names of all the pupils taking these examinations. In every examination, the teacher invigilating would bring this board into the examination room and place it on the front table. In addition, the invigilator brought in a sufficient quantity of paper for the pupils to write their answers on. The regulations of the board had originally said that candidates were to write only on one side of the paper but then there was an addendum which said that in order to save on the cost of the paper, this regulation would be limited to Maths and science subjects. Mr. Coles said that since this Board had not forbidden the use of rough paper, he would supply it - the candidates were not allowed to bring it in. The paper which was supplied for this rough work was the paper which had been specially marked for the school internal exams. Where necessary, graph paper and books of Maths tables would be available.
The question papers for the various examinations were stored in a safe, which was situated in one of the rooms of the main building. It would seem that the key of this safe was only kept by Mr. Coles, since on one occasion just before Shabbat, he came into the main hall, which was then being used as the Synagogue and handed Rabbi Rosen an envelope containing the papers for the following Sunday - Mr. Coles’ day off was Sunday. It would occasionally happen that despite all the proof reading of the question papers, an error would be found after completion of the printing process. In such a case, a very small envelope with the correction would be attached to the question paper envelope.
The Board would supply instructions for the dispatch of the candidates’ scripts to the appropriate examiner. A book containing all the subjects set by the Board, together with the names and addresses of the examiners marking the scripts was sent to each school. Usually more than one examiner was required to mark a particular subject and the examiner, to which a particular school should send their scripts, was indicated in this book. For example, a school might have the number 46 allocated to it by the Board and an examiner who was marking scripts in that subject for schools numbered, say, 33 - 57 would receive the scripts of that school.
The schools received mark sheets which gave the names in alphabetical order of all the pupils taking any subjects that session. Where there were two pupils with the same surname, this was specially indicated on the mark sheet, in order to eliminate the possibility of an error by the examiner. This mark sheet would be sent to the examiner together with the scripts, after the school had crossed out the names of pupils on this list who had not taken that particular subject. The school was instructed to ensure that the scripts were in the exact order as per the mark sheet to eliminate any possibility of awarding marks to the wrong candidate.
After a particular exam was finished, the scripts would be handed to Mr. Coles for arranging in alphabetical order and dispatch to the examiners. Before dispatch, the subject teacher would often look over them to see how his pupils had fared in the exam and sometimes would even estimate what mark they would obtain. If a pupil’s effort was catastrophic, he might withdraw the script and the pupil would be listed as being absent from the examination.
I understood from Mr. Coles that the regulations allowed a candidate to write his name on the first page of his answer sheet, outside the framework of the time allowed for the exam. It didn’t mention the writing of his name on subsequent sheets. There were occasions when candidates forgot to write their names on the subsequent sheets. Mr. Coles would call them to his laboratory where the papers were ready for dispatch and tell them to write their name, adding that this was close to going against the regulations, since it was written outside the time allocated for the exam!
I once asked Mr. Coles whether he had to send the scripts to the examiners by registered post and he answered that the Board just wanted “proof of postage.” He had a supply of these blank “proof of postage” forms and when the postman came to Carmel to deliver and collect the post, the postman would stamp these “proof of postage” forms with the post office stamp, which gave the date and the place of posting.
Scripts were quite simple to pack and send. More complicated were the dissection specimens of the candidates following an A-level Biology exam. They had to be packed well - such as in a biscuit tin - to ensure they didn’t leak during the course of post.
Up to now I have written about the general organisation of the external examinations, as I, who was then only a pupil, knew them. I shall now describe the actual external examinations which I took at Carmel. I had already realised that exams are largely technique and sometimes actual knowledge only takes second place. For many exams I worked on the basis of this principle.
It was in the lower fifth that I took my first two O-levels - English Language and Elementary Mathematics. The room then used for these exams was the lecture hall in which several rows of desks had been set up.
My first paper was the essay paper in English which was of duration one and a quarter hours. This paper was scheduled to be taken on Saturday. Instead of taking it on the Sunday, the school advanced it to the Friday afternoon.
We assembled in the lecture hall and at the same time there were a few pupils taking a three hour S-level paper. Mr. Coles went round the hall, with the portable exam board showing everyone their exam number, which they then wrote together with their name on their answer paper.
We were then told to turn over our question papers and begin. The only problem was that we had not yet received our question papers, although the S-level candidates had! They therefore turned them back again and our papers we then handed out and we began.
A study of the past papers in English showed that if one had planned out a number of essays on different subjects, one could usually fit one of them into the subjects asked in this exam. I did this and was able to adapt one to “A Bank Holiday Scene” which was one of the options on this paper.
The main English paper began with having to write a precis of a passage. When we had been learning how to write a precis, our English teacher had described it as a “dull exercise.” This was followed by a comprehension regarding a cricket match. One of the questions asked was “What are ‘notches’?” After the exam, one of my friends, who was a keen cricketer told me that he knew this expression. This was followed by some general questions which included knowing the meaning of foreign expressions, which were sometimes used in the English language.
Mr. Warner, our English teacher, had looked over our scripts before they were sent to the examiners, given his estimated marks and put this list on the school notice board. According to this list, I was several marks below the pass mark. I asked him whether I had a chance, and he answered in the affirmative, but he couldn’t say more unless he saw all the scripts of other schools.
The Elementary Mathematics examination consisted of two papers, where the questions included arithmetic, algebra, geometry and trigonometry.
The results of the summer examinations were published during the summer holidays and so that the candidates should not remain in suspense, the school would send out all the results to all the candidates. I duly received the results and saw that I had passed both subjects.
The Board also sends the marks obtained by all the candidates in every paper they took. When I returned to school, I saw that I had passed Maths comfortably and in English was a number of marks above the pass mark. A pupil who Mr. Warner had estimated to have easily passed, in fact failed.
It was decided that the pupils who had passed English Language, would take English Literature that December. The set books for the December exam were the same as for the previous summer exam, the object being to give pupils who had not succeeded in the summer, a further opportunity to be examined on the same set books. Rabbi Rosen told me that he was not keen on us taking the exam in December, since it gave the impression that we had not passed in the summer. We did however, take the exam that December.
The syllabus for this exam was a play from Shakespeare and a book from some later author. The books we studied were Shakespeare’s Richard II and Bernard Shaw’s “The Devil’s Disciple.” For each of these books, there is one complete exam paper. The first question was compulsory and was a context question. In the case of Shakespeare, about four lines were given and for Shaw, even as few as one or two lines and the candidates had to answer questions on these passages. One needed to almost know these set books by heart to be able to answer these questions. Of the remaining questions there was a choice and they included discussing character traits of those appearing in the plays and, in the case of Shakespeare, there was also a question which required the paraphrasing of a certain passage.
For most of the O-levels that December, there were less than a handful of candidates. It was only in the English Literature that there were as many as seven candidates. The results only come out about the beginning of the Spring term and when we arrived back at school, they told us that they had just received them. I had passed.
I took most of my O-levels in the summer of that year. The subjects I took were Scripture Knowledge, Economics, Classical Hebrew, Physics and Additional Mathematics. Languages were not my strong point and so I decided to leave over French and Latin until the following December.
Even if one was taking French in December, one could do the oral exam in the summer by registering to take French that summer. The advantage of this was, that if one did not do well in the oral, one could do it again before the December exam.
The Board sent one of their examiners to the school for this oral exam, which consisted of reading a passage in French and then having a conversation with the examiner in French, in which he asked a number of questions on the candidate’s interests. That year there was one candidate taking A-level French and a large number taking the O-level. The examiner first examined the A-level candidate. To decide the order in which the candidates would have their oral examination, Mrs. Whitfield arranged a lottery. She wrote down all the names of the candidates on a sheet of paper, tore it into strips with one name on each strip, put them in a box and drew out the names. The strips were not torn evenly and some names were on a larger strip of paper and generally these were drawn first. As we shall see, this possibly had an adverse effect on the results of the first O-level candidate to be drawn.
The oral exam took place in Rabbi Rosen’s study. Mrs. Whitfield was also in this room. A pupil was called, was handed a card with a French passage and was told to look over it. Meanwhile, at the same time, the previous candidate was being examined by the examiner.
It is useful to prepare a number of stock answers to questions the examiner might ask, and try and use them in one’s conversation with him. I did this and found them very helpful.
The oral was marked out of 30, of which 10 was for the reading passage and 20 for the conversation. The examiner did not give to Mrs. Whitfield the actual marks he had awarded each candidate, but just told her which candidates had achieved the pass mark of 15. Only two candidates had not done so, one of who was the first O-level candidate to have been examined. As I already said, he was examined immediately after the A-level candidate and this acted to his disadvantage, since Mrs. Whitfield felt that his performance in the oral was such for him to have passed. But that was it - the examiner’s decision is final. She agreed that the other candidate who failed, deserved to do so. I received 20 marks for my oral and therefore did not take another one for the December exam.
Additional Mathematics was an O-level which was usually taken one year after Elementary Mathematics and was “on the way” to A-level Mathematics. There were two papers, each having three sections and the candidates had to answer from at least two of them. The first section was algebra and geometry, the second section, analytical geometry and calculus and the last section, mechanics. It was in that year that the school had combined two classes and there were only myself and two other boys in this class who had passed Elementary Mathematics, and thus we were the only ones then taking Additional Mathematics.
The Physics exam comprised two theory papers and a practical exam. The first paper was heat, light, sound and mechanics and the second one, electricity, magnetism and mechanics. Due to the combining of two classes that year, there were some pupils who had covered less of the syllabus in connection with the first paper. Mr. Bunney therefore warned that some pupils would fail the first paper and they therefore needed to gain sufficient marks in the remaining parts of the exam to compensate for this deficit.
Whilst we were sitting this first paper, Mr. Bunney came into the exam room, looked at the paper and said to us that the in question 9, it should say “specific gravity” in the question and not “density.” His comment was right, although the Board had not sent such a correction. It is interesting to know what happened in other schools which took this paper.
Since schools have to prepare and set up the equipment for a practical examination, they are sent instructions on what is required about six weeks before the practical examination. Where necessary, the teacher must do the experiments himself with the same equipment and give a report to the examiners.
That year there was a compulsory experiment on heat and then one experiment on either light or electricity or mechanics.
There was not sufficient room in the laboratory for all the candidates to do the practical at the same time and so they were divided into two groups. I was in the second group. The first group did the exam in the morning. Just before they finished, the second group assembled in the adjoining chemistry laboratory, so that there should be no contact between those who had just finished their exam and those who were about to begin. After the first group had safely left the area, we were ushered into the physics laboratory.
We were then told to choose which of the three experiments we wanted to attempt. The mechanics experiment involved a simple pendulum and many pupils including myself chose it. Mr. Bunney said he hadn’t allowed for this eventuality and so it was necessary to set up more sets of apparatus for this experiment.
Another O-level which I then took was popularly called “Economics.” The exam was officially called “Economic Structure of England” and didn’t have any economic theory as such, contained in it. The subject was classed as an “Alternative Ordinary Level.” Why the Board used the word “Alternative” I don’t know and what it was an alternative of, I likewise don’t know!
There was only one paper and there was a wide choice of four questions out of twelve to answer. When we assembled to take this paper, we found that there was enough room in the lecture hall for all the candidates except one. Since of all the candidates, my name was the last in the alphabet, I was that one! The problem was solved by putting my desk by one of the doors and putting up a sign by the outside of the door not to enter by that door.
Amongst the questions there was one on trade unions and one on banking. These were two of the subjects we had covered thoroughly in our lessons. I certainly answered these two questions and I would think many, if not all the class did.
Mr. Schmidt looked at our scripts before they were sent in and he gave us his assessment on our performance. He commented that the script of one of the candidates would give the examiner a laugh and so he did not withdraw it. When the results came in, we saw that everyone else had passed and even this pupil had come close to passing.
The subjects which I have written about until now were subjects taken by all schools. Classical Hebrew was however set specially for Carmel College. It consisted of two papers. In the first paper, two unprepared passages had to be translated from the original Hebrew to English, the first was from the Torah and the second from the Prophets. This was followed by a passage in English which had to be translated into pointed Biblical Hebrew. The second paper was on set books. They comprised a total of just over twenty chapters from the books of Deuteronomy, Amos and one of the Psalms. In this paper, passages had to be pointed and translated, further passages translated and notes written on the overlined words or phrases and there was also a grammatical question.
Since this was a special paper for Carmel College, the school could choose when to take it. The school fixed the exam after almost all the other O-levels were over. Initially, Mr. Coles was going to give paper 1, which was the unprepared books first, but we asked that he reverse the order of the papers, which he did.
As soon as we received the set books paper, we saw that one of the passages they had given us to translate, was the first paragraph of the Shema, which gave us a “bit of a laugh,” since children learn this in English at about the age of six! Our teacher, Mr. Loewe, however, told us afterwards that it is not so easy to translate. On this paragraph they asked us to comment on the words “Hashem Elokenu Hashem Echad.” It was likely they wanted us to mention the Nash papyrus which added the word “Hu” after these words, which according to the secular Biblical scholars removed any ambiguity on the meaning of these words in the Shema. As one can see from this, the papers were set by non-Jewish examiners whose approach to Torah is quite different from ours!
Since we had to point on the actual question paper, Mr. Coles considered it completely legitimate, to write our names and number on this question paper, outside the two hours allocated for this paper. Because we had to hand in the question paper, our teacher gave an extra copy to those who requested it.
A very fortunate occurrence happened just a few weeks before taking this exam, which assisted me with the unprepared paper. It was on the Shabbat when we read the Sidra of Balak, that Rabbi Rosen spoke to the school about the Haftarah, and told the pupils to learn by heart the last verse. A boy asked me to translate it for him and I found difficulty in doing so. I therefore took out an English Bible and learned by heart the translation. In the exam, this verse was included in one of the passages for translation.
When the results were published, my overall mark for the two papers was the highest in the class. Likewise in the mock exam, which we had taken some months earlier, I came top with 63 per cent, even though I had overlooked part of one question.
Just as in Classical Hebrew, a special paper was also set for Carmel College in Scripture Knowledge. For our year it was the “Hebrew Text” of the first twenty chapters of Genesis. In the exam, the candidates were asked to point, translate and parse certain passages.
Since we had handed in the question paper, I asked Mr. Coles after the exam for an extra copy. He declined to give me one unless I got permission from the subject teacher, saying it may be needed for mock exams in the future. The problem here was that there was no subject teacher for this paper. The closest to it was Rabbi Rosen who went over the material for the second paper with us. However, he was not in school that day and this was the last day of the school year. I finally got a copy by writing to the Board. Since it was only one paper, they even made no charge for it.
The second paper was the general paper set by the Board on “Old Testament History.” It consisted of a compulsory context question, where one to three lines quotes were given and one had to answer questions on them. This meant knowing the set books almost by heart. There was a slight choice in the remaining questions which consisted of describing events from these set books and sometimes discussing them.
There was a slight problem in timetabling some of these O-levels. Due to the fact that the fast of Tisha B’Av occurred on the Sunday which would normally have been the Annual Speech day, the end of term was advanced to the previous Thursday morning. However there were O-levels until that Friday afternoon, meaning that pupils sitting for those subjects had to remain behind after the end of term. One of these papers was this second Scripture paper which was scheduled for the Thursday.
On that Thursday morning, the boys left for home on the school coach. As soon as they had left, we sat this paper. Even when we had finished, we were not allowed to leave the school, since other schools might well be taking this exam in the afternoon. It was therefore only in the afternoon that we were allowed to leave. We walked up the hill from the back entrance of the school and got a bus to Reading on our way home to London.
As in the previous year, the school sent out the results to all the candidates during the holidays. I passed all the five O-levels which I had taken that summer.
As I wrote earlier, languages not being my strong point, I decided to leave over French and Latin until that December. Since I had already easily passed the oral exam, I did not have to take it again. Had I done so, it would be the later mark which would count, even if it were lower than the earlier one.
The first French paper we took consisted of a story and a passage to translate into French. In the exam the teacher reads out the story twice and then the pupils must write it out in their own words in French. They are given an analysis of the story and the title must be written on the blackboard. There happened to be no blackboard available in the room and so the teacher, Mrs. Whitfield, wrote it on a magazine rack which was in the room.
At the same time as we took this French exam, some pupils took a History exam in the same room. I had asked that those taking French should sit at the front of the room to be nearer to the teacher reading the story, but Mr. Coles insisted that candidates must sit in alphabetical order.
A potential problem which I managed to get solved was that it was usual for pupils to write their name and number on the first answer sheet and then immediately begin work. I said that it would be disadvantageous that if after reading the story there would be a pause whilst the candidates taking History would be writing their names and numbers. One wants to immediately start writing the story, especially to get down the last sentence, almost word for word, since this is the “sting” in the story. A pause of even a minute, can thus be crucial. Everyone in the room therefore wrote their name and number before the story was read.
The story was “Two haircuts for the price of none.” A man goes into a barber shop with a young boy for haircuts. The man has his haircut first and then leaves the boy to have his haircut, saying he will return. After the boy has finished his haircut, the barber asks where his father is. The boy replies “He’s not my father, he is a man I met in the street and asked whether I wanted a haircut!”
The passage to translate into French was very difficult. So much so that another French teacher in the school said that he would be shocked to see some of the constructions in a degree exam. Mrs. Whitfield, however, said that she did not agree with this assessment.
A couple of days later, we took the French paper in which one had to translate two passages into English. Fortunately this paper was easier than the first one. On the same day there was the French dictation. Also here the title is written on a blackboard and again it was written on the magazine rack. I passed French.
I also took O-level Latin that December. The first paper consisted of translating English sentences into Latin, translating a Latin passage into English and finally a passage from English into Latin. In that paper I achieved the pass mark. However I got a low mark in the second paper which caused me to have an overall fail in this exam.
I will now come to my A-level examinations. As I have already written, three of us in the class were a year ahead in Mathematics over the remainder of the class and as a consequence took A-level Mathematics for Science in the lower sixth form.
This exam consisted of three papers. The first was on algebra and trigonometry. This was my best paper, and indeed also of the other two boys. On the following day, there was the mechanics paper, which for all of us was the hardest paper. Some questions began by asking the candidates to prove a theorem and I suspect that many of my marks for this paper came from this part of the various questions. That day the exam began later in the morning, since the whole school was photographed, something which was done every other year whilst I was in the school. The last paper was on analytical geometry and calculus.
After sitting each paper, Mr. Evans, a Maths teacher, but not our Maths teacher who was at the time ill, looked over our scripts and thought we had all passed. As I mentioned earlier, our Maths teacher, Mr. George, had been away for well over a term following an eye operation. Following the exam, all three of us went to visit him at his home in Wallingford. I suggested that we take him a box of chocolates but my fellow pupils thought flowers were more appropriate and so we bought a bunch of flowers and I was the one asked to give them to him. As soon as we entered, both he and his wife asked how we had done in the exam and I told them that Mr. Evans thought we had passed.
The results came out during the summer holidays, a little earlier than the O-level results, and all three of us had indeed passed.
It was that year that an external pupil, I seem to remember his name was Patterson-Fox, came to take his science and Maths A-levels at Carmel. Since he was an external student, instead of writing his number with a slash “/” between the school number and his personal number, an “x” was written. Mr. Bunney commented that as a consequence of his taking the exams at Carmel, the school had to buy an extra set of equipment for the Physics practical. He then added that Carmel sometimes sent its pupils to other schools for language oral examinations. It would seem that he had complained about having to buy this additional equipment and this was the reply he had received. However, this does not seem a parallel to me, since taking an oral exam at a school does not involve extra expenditure, except maybe a cup of tea!
The following year was my final year at Carmel. Having passed Maths A-level, I could now concentrate on Chemistry and Physics. Mr. Coles did not set any conditions on entry for the exam. However Mr. Bunney said he was setting us eight exams, and to be able to enter for the A-level, we had to reach a certain mark. These exams were taken one each week and were divided up as follows: two in each of light, heat, mechanics, and electricity. Mr. Bunney discovered that one of them, he had scheduled to take place on Shavuot, and he was surprised that we had not pointed this fact out to him. He then found an afternoon to give us that test.
These tests were very useful in drawing our attention to points we had overlooked in our revision. Whenever I came to something during the course of my revision which I didn’t understand, I would write it down. Each week, there was a period when both Mr. Bunney and myself were free and I would then go through my list of questions and ask him to clarify them for me.
The first A-level to take place was the Chemistry practical. As with all practicals, the school is informed a month or so beforehand in order that they might get the equipment ready and do trial experiments themselves.
There were nine pupils in the class, yet only eight benches for pupils in the laboratory. Rather than hold the practical in two sessions, the ninth pupil who was myself, since my name was the last in the alphabet, was given the master’s bench. In order not to have to spend unnecessary time on washing test-tubes or getting equipment from elsewhere in the laboratory, a boy in the class below acted as a steward for the examinees. For a business man, time is money; for an examinee, it is marks.
On the day of the exam, we all turned up at the chemistry laboratory. I decided that I was going to be as comfortable as possible and turned up wearing slippers. Mr. Coles rather liked this idea! However not every teacher thought likewise and when I turned up for a theory paper with slippers, Mr. Evans who was invigilating told me off about it!
In the practical exam there was a quantitative analysis and the necessary chemicals and reagents were already on our benches. There was also a choice of two questions on qualitative analysis. In earlier years, every pupil had the same chemical to analyse but for obvious reasons, the Board had changed their policy and different pupils had different chemicals to analyse. These chemicals were sent in small packets all contained in a big envelope, by the Board, and each small packet had a number on it. Mr. Coles said he would hand them to each pupil in the order which they came out the big envelope.
In the two Chemistry theory papers there were questions on inorganic, organic and physical chemistry and one had a free choice of five out of ten questions.
The Physics theory papers however were divided into definite sections. In the first paper there was mechanics and heat and in the second one, electricity and light. Due to the increasing importance of electricity, the regulations had been changed a few years earlier to require the candidates to answer more questions on electricity.
In the printed timetable published by Board, the first Physics paper was due to take place in the afternoon. For some reason, I had not noticed that Mr. Coles had timetabled this in Carmel for that morning. Just a few minutes before the exam was about to begin, Moshe Leibovich, who also thought that the exam was in the afternoon, came running to me saying that “the exam is now.” I rushed and got my writing kit together and rushed to the exam room. After the exam, Mr. Bunney looked over our scripts and said I did well on that paper.
The second paper was very difficult. To add to my troubles, the paper must have been greasy and I found difficulty in writing on it with ink. I therefore changed over to a biro. I remember that in the last half an hour. I wrote furiously fast with this biro and I probably gained many of the marks for this paper during this period. I went out this exam most disheartened and passed on my feelings to Mr. Bunney. He did not look at our script for this paper.
The last exam was the Physics practical. In some years, the Board sent an examiner to the school for the practical. They didn’t that year. The school utilised both the Physics and the Chemistry laboratories for this exam. The candidates had to do two experiments and the paper was divided into two sections, with the pupils having to choose one experiment from each section. In the first section of our paper there were experiments on mechanics and electricity and on the second section, light and heat.
Mr. Bunney had previously briefed us that when we came into the laboratory, the apparatus for each experiment will have already been set up and we would be given the question papers and rough paper and about 20 minutes to decide which experiments we wanted to perform. Someone had asked whether we would have to throw away the rough paper we had written on during this planning period, before we began the actual experiments. Mr. Bunney answered that you have a memory!
On the day of the exam, we all came into the physics laboratory and, set up on the four benches on one side of the laboratory, were the four experiments. I chose the mechanics experiment which was a bifilar pendulum, and the heat experiment which involved loading a glass bulb with copper wire. The light experiment looked most off-putting but I learned afterwards from those who did it, that it was the simplest experiment. Appearances can be deceptive! A lot of boys chose this heat experiment and since Mr. Bunney had not expected this, he had to set up more benches with this experiment.
I began with this heat experiment in the Physics laboratory and at “half time” transferred to the Chemistry laboratory to do the bifilar pendulum experiment. For their marking of this experiment, the examiners needed to know the weight of the metre rule we had used in this experiment and so towards the end of the exam Mr. Bunney went around weighing these rulers.
It was during the summer holidays, that I suddenly received a letter from Mr. Alexander congratulating me on my wonderful results in Physics. I had not yet heard from Carmel on the results but a few days later they arrived. I had got a distinction in Physics and passed Chemistry. When I received the actual marks, I saw that my mark in Chemistry was only a few marks less than that in Physics. I asked Mr. Coles whether I could put in an appeal for a distinction in Chemistry, but he said the Board have their own rules. Apart from me, only one other boy got a distinction that year - I think it was in English.