By Brian D. Cosgrave
It was in June 1962, at Queen’s University, Belfast, that I took my final examinations for the degree of BA. It was a single subject degree, and that subject was English. It might seem to those unfamiliar with the procedure back then that the obligation to focus on only one specialised area of study was an easy option.
Not so: we had to sit nine consecutive three-hour written exams over a period of some seven days, with one sole break midway, over the two days of a weekend. Moreover, in that time before the introduction of continuous assessment, whereby some of the examination is offloaded over the years in the form of assignments, we had to cover every subject-area we had experienced over the previous three years.
Chronologically, the material included Anglo-Saxon and later medieval English; Shakespeare; seventeenth-century and eighteenth- century literature; the Romantic Movement; the Victorians; and modern literature.
It should be obvious that the sheer pressure on the memory, or on the ability to recall what had once been familiar material two or three years previously, was considerable. Such knowledge had to be resuscitated by the weary examinees on the evening after the first two three-hour papers, then on the next evening after two more papers; though thankfully preparation for only one paper was necessary for the third day.