When I started writing this book, I went to a library and, as part of my research, collected ten books on how to pass exams.
As he checked the books out, the librarian glanced sternly up. I could predict what was coming, because it was May, and I look young enough to pass off as a 20-year-old. 'Now, dear girl,' he commanded me over his half-moons, 'make sure you don't waste all your time reading these books, and get down to some serious revision.'
I relate this episode because it impressed upon me how quickly people can jump to the wrong conclusions unless they seek out the underlying context first. Without this, they are likely to do more harm than good.
It also reminded me how many of us enjoy exerting power over others weaker than ourselves. Students are often singled out for such attention, since, as anyone who has ever put L-plates on their car will confirm, the learner status often arouses superior attitudes in others. People, institutions, dare I say even governments have been known to take liberties with students that they wouldn't dream of taking with other intelligent adults.
Had this chap been genuinely concerned about what he believed to be my exam neurosis, something less condescending might have passed his lips – for instance, 'What is it about exams that makes us all so anxious?' Even, 'What the hell do you want all those exam books for – you look perfectly clever to me' might have opened the channels of communication. And indeed, had I been in the alarming state he imagined, a few sympathetic words on his part might have been a life-saver. Instead, he saw my ten books, saw me, thought, 'Student with no confidence in herself at