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Top Gear Africa Special: Part One – 3 March 2013

I’m a great fan of Top Gear, but its India Special in 2011 was embarrassing to sit through. Happily, this year, it seems Andy Wilman and his team have redeemed themselves.

REFLECT ON THE SCENE: Hammond observing the Lake from his 'sitting room', atop his car roof.

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Post-Exam Thoughts: GCSE German Unit 1 (Listening) – 18 June 2012

Throughout the GCSE German course, I spent many, many weekends learning what were effectively ‘scripts’ with the hope I’d be able to repeat them word-for-word in the six writing and speaking examinations (though only the best four were submitted). It’s a method that is frowned upon by most German teachers, as it isn’t thought to give students such great fluency in the language as other methods do. However, it worked for me, and for those elements (which make up 60 per cent of the final grade) I have quite decent marks.

PLAY THE TAPE: I sat today's Listening paper in a relatively quiet classroom in front of a CD player. (CDPlayerScreen_Vince Varga)

That made revising for today’s Listening paper seem easy – a piece of Kuchen. It was to be, after all, a glorified vocabulary test; merely a test to see how many of the words taught over the last two years could be recalled. Sitting only the Foundation Tier paper, I went in to the exam feeling relatively confident, having scored the highest possible grade (a C) in the three latest of the four past papers I took in preparation for today.

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Post-Exam Thoughts: GCSE Music Listening – 14 May 2012

The fourteenth of May. A Monday morning. 9:00am. The date and time that, until all too recently had seemed blissfully distant, was suddenly upon me and my GCSE Music classmates. In the last two years, we’ve been assessed in two prepared performances (I did a saxophone solo and a clarinet duet) and over a lengthy period equating to just shy of two whole days, composed two pieces of music of our own. Now, the GCSE exam period got under way with this final part of our overall grade for Music: the listening examination.

TECHNICAL: A technical hitch stalled my Music Listening examination briefly.

As with several of my other upcoming exams, there are only a limited number of past papers available due to the infancy of this style of exam. In the two practice tests that do exist, I scored a mark that probably looked about average when compared to the rest of the class. By the weekend just gone, I was getting about 75% on most of the tests on the BBC’s Bitesize revision website, but there is only one test for each topic.

I think today’s paper was of equal difficulty to the two we’d done in class. It was certainly not like some exams where I’ve left and thought how ‘unfair’ the paper was, and how ‘nothing we’d covered beforehand’ has come up. Sure, it had a question or two which was not similar to anything we’d seen before, but – on the most part – I had the knowledge to give it a go. I wouldn’t necessarily blame it on the CD player (though I do doubt its bass levels were turned up as loud as they could have been) but I found one question asking about a recording’s bass rhythm very difficult, as I just couldn’t pick out the lowest part from the mix.

SIGN OF THE TIMES: Nowadays, the traditional cassette tape has been replaced by CD, and looks set to move onto digital within the next few years.

I’m not holding out for a high-end grade: I’ll be surprised if I get anything higher than the Cs and Bs I received from the mock exams. That said, I’ll be surprised if I get anything much lower either.

The exam season has begun… but only just. Equating to just 20% of the final mark for its subject, the Music Listening exam is merely an overture for the epic opera – with its fair share of tears, trials, and (hopefully, at the end) one or two triumphs – that is now getting underway.