My thoughts recently have been with all those who have been doing exams of one kind or another, and I hope that for most of them they are over now and have gone well. I thank God that my own exam days are in the past as I feel I sat enough of them in my time and never did so without at least some element of stress, and a little sense of trepidation.
Probably my most harrowing experience was on day one of the first year of my Accountancy studies in the summer of 1970. Accountancy exams were usually held in various Glasgow hotels and in this particular year my exams were due to take place in a big hotel on the south side of the city. Now, being from the north side, the south side of Glasgow is a foreign country to me, and I wasn’t exactly sure where I was going. Being a bit of a crammer, I was up late the night before staring bleary-eyed at the books for one last time, and then rose early to make sure I had plenty of time to reach my destination. Two buses were required, one into the city centre, then another across the River Clyde to the south side. Half way into town the first bus broke down, steam pouring out of the engine. Everybody had to get off and wait for a bus to come from the Anniesland depot to take us the rest of the way. A butterfly of panic began to flutter in my stomach. The relief bus came about 20 minutes later and we made it the rest of the way. Having missed the connecting bus in the city I now had to wait a while for the next one, the butterfly wings by now beating more furiously. Eventually it came and I alighted at the other end at running pace all the way to the hotel, only to discover it was the wrong hotel, I should have been at another hotel with a similar name a mile up the road. I ran and ran again and arrived breathless and sweaty 25 minutes into the exam. Thankfully they let me slip in quietly and get on with it. The next few days I arrived in plenty of time. When the results came out two months later I’d passed them all – but the first one, only just.
Another memorable exam experience was when I went to Rome for my final year before ordination. While there I applied to the Vatican to be ordained a deacon in the Passionist Monastery of Saints John and Paul where I was living at the time, while studying in the Gregorian University. This was 1982-83. The detail of all my Theology studies to show I had the necessary qualifications, with the proper exams taken and passed, had been meant to come from the Milltown Institute in Dublin, but they never arrived, even though I was assured they had been sent. This meant I had to take an oral exam covering the key areas of scripture, morals and doctrine, at the Basilica of St. John Lateran. I went with trepidation only to be examined by a very kind and friendly Swiss Dominican who was happy to put me forward for the Diaconate. A couple of days later an Italian member of the Passionist Community returned from conducting some parish missions and found my letter from Dublin which had been put into his mail box by mistake. So that was one set of exams I shouldn’t have needed to take – but it was an interesting experience. As we celebrate Pentecost we ask the help of the Holy Spirit in the prayer below for all those doing exams:
Lord, pour out your Spirit of wisdom on all students doing exams at this time.
Help them to remain calm, to attend carefully to the questions asked,
to think clearly, to remember accurately, and to express themselves well.
Grant that they may reflect the best of the work they have done,
and the best of the teaching they have received.
When the results come out may they be satisfied that they did their best,
and may whatever path they choose in life bring them happiness.
May your love be upon them O Lord as they place all their trust in you. Amen.