If someone told me when I left school at eighteen that in four years I would have a qualification in Higher English, I think I would have found such an idea enticing but unrealistic and yet last year that is exactly what happened.
I left high school with it being known that I was good at English and there had been talk of me being able to do National 5, which would be followed by a Higher. Unfortunately, the school I attended couldn’t help me to reach such potential, but the idea of doing Higher English was brought up from time to time but not really taken much further.
Then, in 2021 I decided I did want to do Higher English and I found a course on Tuesday nights at Forth Valley College, I applied and was accepted.
The course started on Tuesday 31 August and with my team member Denise, we met the tutor and the rest of the class and went over what we would be working on over the months to come. I would have to read and analyse works such as Chinua Achebe’s ‘Things Fall Apart’ as well as poetry by Carol Ann Duffy.
I did most of my reading at home while most of the time in class went on reading and answering questions about newspaper articles. The questions were often about the writer’s use of language or tone, or what they might think of the subject they were writing about. Sometimes I needed a bit of help before I really got them and then I wrote what felt like the right answer.
Given the level that it’s at, Higher English is meant to be difficult and I do believe that I was aware of that, but while things had been okay for the first few weeks it was after a class in late September that I was left wondering if I could really do it, or if I was actually in over my head and might even have to give the course up.
The concern and worry of this resulted in a talk with the tutor and I shared that I am autistic. This was something I didn’t think would need to come up but now it was unavoidable. It might have given the closest thing to a reason why I couldn’t answer poetry questions in the way the tutor would have preferred.
The tutor shared the same concern that maybe I wouldn’t make it to the end. But apart from that he was, most of the time, as helpful as he could be.
I was at class every week and always arrived on time, and each month I’m sure I found time to go through both ‘Things Fall Apart’ and the poetry, as well as the lines and sections that went into detail about what certain words of poetry meant. It did reach a point where I was allowed to drop the poetry book for a while and just read ‘Things Fall Apart’, but the poetry would become more important soon.
At the end of the year everyone was asked to write an essay. Mine was about how I got into reading and writing, as well as how I came to write reviews and stories that led to my winning an award. That in turn led to a newspaper interview and being published in online magazines as well as trying to write a novel, and a supposed sense of purpose that writing has given me.
During the course it really became clear that I was never going to be good with poetry. I had to go over Carol Ann Duffy’s poem ‘Valentine’ time and time again and I don’t think I understood it, beyond what would seem obvious to anyone. I think poetry can be abstract and indulgent in metaphors, which doesn’t work well with those who think and see things literally, like I do.
Exam Day was Wednesday 11 May. I arrived at the college and found the others were taken into one exam room all together while I had one all to myself, not counting Denise (My Personal Development Worker) and the invigilator. First, I had to answer questions from articles, had a short break, did more and had lunch. Then I think it was answering questions about ‘Things Fall Apart’, poetry and possibly the movie ‘Psycho’ I must admit I don’t remember it too clearly as I was too busy having to focus. I had done a prelim back in March but this was the real thing.
I had no illusions about the exam and despite my hard work, there was a chance of failing. Some of the people in the class had already taken the course and failed before. I tried not to worry too much but I think I did appreciate what was at stake.
The results came on Tuesday 9 August 2022. I was sure the letter attached to it meant a pass, but I couldn’t be sure. There was number to call and after a few tense minutes I had confirmation, I had passed Higher English.
I’m pleased I passed and now I am working more on my own writing, and I hope that some of what I picked up may find its way into what I do. It was an interesting time and I still have the cue cards Denise made me for me, defining things like metaphors and alliteration.
I am grateful for the Higher but just as grateful that I don’t have to do it again.
By Andrew Moodie.
Share this on social media: