Wednesday, June 08, 2011

The Ordeal

It’s 20 years since I took my first GCSEs - four of them, a year early, what with going to posh school. Tomorrow morning, me and Nimbos and a motley gang of heroes sit GCSE Astronomy, which we’ve been studying at the ROG since September.

It’s been a really interesting course. I’ve looked through a telescope for the first time, ordered a robotic telescope in Las Palmas to take pictures of galaxies for me, and had some nice nights out in the pub. But there’s a massive amount to keep all in my head and I’d forgotten my keen terror of exams.

It doesn’t help that exams are so entirely counter-intuitive to a hack like me. I spend a lot of my life having to write authoritatively about complicated subjects, which means reading up on them quickly, distilling that simply and then doing check upon check. I try to use at least two reliable sources and then get someone expert to read it over anyway.

This very process got me on to the course. I asked television’s Marek Kukula to read over my first draft of Doctor Who and the Cold Equations. With great tact he explained my grasp of the complex stuff was quite good, but my basic maths and physics was appalling.

Too often as I’ve revised my scrawling notes and gone through past papers my first thought has been, ‘I know where to find the answer to that’. I know exactly which book has the best looking Hertzsprung-Russell diagram, which photocopies unpick the Equation of Time and which magazine details all the things the Huygens probe found out about Titan.

The freelance skill, hard learned over years, is to know where to check these things and not to rely on my memory. Or that’s what I’m telling myself as I jangle in terror at the coming ordeal.

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