Students in England: Watching the English

I buy lots of books and then don’t read them for years.  One such book is ‘Watching the English’ by Kate Fox (Hodder & Stoughton, 2004).  I bought it when it first came out, but I’ve only just read it.

It’s a quick and amusing read.  Full of generalisations, but good fun nonetheless.

‘Watching the English’ has a lot of commentary on how to tell a person’s class.  You’re bound to enjoy working out what social class you seem to be.  It’s not necessarily accurate…I appear to be in the realms of the Upper Class.

Anyone who knows me would laugh if they heard that.  And they’d continue laughing.  And then laugh some more.

People can be so cruel.

Anyway, I gave so many procrastination links out yesterday, that I’ve decided to leave the EduLinks alone today.  We’ll see how it goes.  Hopefully I won’t end up simply providing double the number of EduLinks on Thursday…

Today, I thought I’d point out what Kate Fox has to say about English university students and exams.  See if you can pick up a copy of the book if you can.  It’s not a serious social examination or madly scientific commentary.  It’s just a good read.

Kate Fox is a co-director of the Social Issues Research Centre (SIRC) in Oxford.  According to the SIRC website, her next book is about Shopping.  I hope it details student shopping too.


“University effectively postpones true adulthood for an extra three years. As limbo states go, this is quite a pleasant one: students have almost all of the privileges of full adult members of society, but few of the responsibilities. English students moan and whine constantly to each other about their ‘impossible’ workload, and are always having what they call ‘an essay crisis’ (meaning they have to write an essay) – but the demands of most degree courses are not very onerous compared to those of an average full-time job.

“The ordeal of final exams provides an excuse for even more therapeutic moaning-rituals, with their own unwritten rules. The modesty rule is important: even if you are feeling reasonably calm and confident about an exam, it is not done to say so – you must pretend to be full of anxiety and self-doubt, convinced that you are going to fail, because it goes without saying (although you say it repeatedly) that you have not done anywhere near enough work. Only the most arrogant, pompous and socially insensitive students will ever admit to having done enough revision for their exams; such people are rare, and usually heartily disliked.

“If you have clearly swotted like mad, you can admit this only in a self-deprecatory context: ‘I’ve worked my butt off, but I’m still completely pants at genetics – I just know I’m going to screw up – and anyway there’s bound to be a question on the one thing I haven’t revised properly. Just Sod’s law, isn’t it?’ Any expression of confidence must be counterbalanced by an expression of insecurity: ‘I think I’m OK on the sociology paper, but statistics is just totally doing my head in…’

“The superstition element, or the risk of making a fool of oneself, may be an important factor before the exam, but the modest demeanour is maintained even after the desired result has been achieved. Those who do well must always appear surprised by their success, even if they secretly feel it was well deserved. Cries of ‘Oh my God! I don’t believe it!’ are the norm when such students receive their results, and while elation is expected, success should be attributed to good fortune (‘I was lucky – all the right questions came up’) rather than talent or hard work. An Oxford medical student who had got a First, and was being congratulated by friends and relatives at a celebratory lunch, kept ducking her head, shrugging and insisting that ‘It’s not really such a big deal in science subjects – you don’t have to be clever or anything, it’s all factual – you just memorize the stuff and give the right answers. It’s just parrot-learning’.”

Are we, as students in England, really like that?  Shocking! 🙂

What’s it’s like elsewhere in the world?