This week we post an Archive photo for all those students commencing Semester 1 exams. It’s a familiar scene: final examinations at St. Mary’s Drill Hall in Southampton, almost 60 years ago. Note the dress code – shirts and ties for the gentlemen – quite formal by modern standards but positively relaxed compared to earlier times. The University College of Southampton ‘Rules of Conduct and Discipline’ from 1924-5, required all students to wear full academic dress at lectures and written examinations [LF 783.2] At that time the academic gown was the uniform of the student – not the badge of success reserved for graduation day.
With sartorial considerations out of the way, how to succeed at examinations?
We find some helpful tips in this 19th-century standing order of the Master General and Board of Ordnance. It states that every person nominated to a post in the Ordnance Department must undergo examination, which should include the following points:
1st – His* handwriting must be clear and legible in every respect, of which a specimen is to be produced. [* no equal opportunity at the Ordnance in 1824!!]
2nd – It is expected that he will be perfect in the common rules of Arithmetic, viz. – Addition, Subtraction, Multiplication, and Division; and when the Office to which he may be nominated shall particularly relate to Accounts, he will be required to pass a further examination of his abilities in the Rule of Three and Fractions.
3rd – Every person nominated as above, will be required to write grammatically in the English language and to be correct in his orthography.
Handwriting, mental arithmetic and spelling apart, the final hurdle was age: candidates should produce a certificate “in order to verify that the age of 16 years has been attained, and that he is not beyond thirty, though in the latter case, a latitude of a few months will be allowed, and not considered a disqualification for the Office”.
We can see these rules as part of the rise of professionalization in the 19th century – it was now accepted that employees should be competent – and a reminder that the history of examination and education is long and interlinked. Exams are a test and a rite of passage; a shared experience that ties together students past and present.
Strenuis Ardua Cedunt [The heights yield to endeavour – University motto.]