You have good exams and you have bad exams. I don’t mean life exams or any other deep stuff like that; I mean sit-ins, pen and paper exams, the ones you need to study for or stay home. In my student life I had mostly good exams. Not that I’m bragging or anything, but I get pretty good grades. Ok I’m bragging, so what? Most of my exams ended with well-earned good results for which I studied hard. Except THAT ONE. The exam that was left in history as the horrible, despicable, Phonetics exam!
Lecture after lecture I was left with a sound and reassuring impression I understood the stuff. It made sense. It was oh-so-logic. In retrospect I think this might have been because it was taught by a teacher who I previously had for other courses, and from whom I knew I understood very well. He is a good teacher, knows how to explain, and it is only because of him I managed to pass the god damn thing anyway. He would make funny association as “ the Hugh Grant sound”, the “ cat A” and other weird stuff that made us laugh and therefore remember them.
So together with this awesome feeling that I knew everything I started doing my revision and started to practice phonetic transcription. And lo and behold: I knew nothing. Every time I transcribed a word and then checked in the dictionary something equally strange and different was staring back. Late nights would find me surrounded by loads of paper, empty coffee mugs, and a ton and a half of frustration. In the end I had to give up and tell myself I won’t show up for the exam and just go through the whole thing for the re-examination. I had never failed an exam before. Son of a…
But my wonderful colleagues were apparently in the same boat as me. So we all (more like seven) gathered and started revising (a day before the exam, of course). That day…well that day was something special. In about five hours we managed to go through 2 or 3 chapters out of 5, gossiped like it was a competition of sorts, ironized our teacher’s lecturing techniques, and had the world’s longest lunch. In the middle of everything we managed to come to a consensus that we had no idea what the difference between a phoneme and a phone is, and so two of us went to ask the teacher himself in his office (‘Cause Google is too good for us, you know…) . After half an hour where we thought they just went home leaving us all clueless and confused, they came back filled with a sense of fulfillment and a parallel between phonemes and two different varieties of potatoes. We all nodded, mumbling some ahhh sounds and returned equally, if not even more, confused to our books. In the last hour we started getting seriously on each other’s nerves so we decided to go home before friendships, feelings, and chairs were broken.
The exam day I showed up at school all gloomy and pissed off. Questions like “How are you?” were answered with bitchy stuff like “ What’s so effing good about it?”. I was reassured by the fact that we somehow found out that our teacher was going to add an exercise to our exam in which we were supposed to write a couplet with a particular meter. We had all agreed to make it about a pink dildo, as a ha-ha- funny-since- I’m- failing-anyway.
And so I turned my exam page and took a deep breath. I am not religious but I have to admit it would have been a good place and time to start. After daring to look at the first question I realized I knew how to answer it. And the second. With a wild and crazed look on my face, I started turning page after page going through all the questions. Ha! I knew most of the stuff. I looked around, wearing my dumbest most sincere smile, and I think I might have said a way too excited “Thank you!” to the supervisor who was handing me a paper for eventual drafts. I would have drafts! Because I knew how to answer the subjects! Yay! At the end of the exam’s last page, 1 lonely credit was indeed given for a couplet; but I suppose the teacher somehow sniffed the shenanigan and it had a pre-determined theme. Can’t have it all.
After the exam we all happily joined a joyful group outside the lecture room, where we cross-checked our answers, still not believing we had a rather strong chance to nail the exam. Which we did. All of us. I think. Looking at this video of a guy jumping without a parachute from a plane reminded me of that exam. His buddies (the smart ones wearing parachutes) are holding his own parachute and helping him with it while falling. Thank God I have an equal amount of insanity to show up to a difficult Phonetics exam anyway, and the pure luck to have colleagues who would hold a parachute for me.Here is a video of students undergoing a phonetics exam
P.S: I still can’t transcribe correctly. And I still hear a schwa in the word “tongue”.