“The writer assumes that the reader knows which banana skins they are referring to.”
This is not a sentence I ever thought I’d be writing on a mock exam paper but boy did it tickle the hell out of me. It’s not very often that when you come to the last of a mountainous pile of exam marking that the final paper gives you something to giggle about, but this one did.
Being a fairly competent English tutor I’ve taken to marking 11 plus mock exam papers to boost the ole pay packet – trust me outdoor education does not pay well, even if you do get to dress up as a pirate occasionally – so the author of my Monday morning hysterics was only eleven, bless her. Her work was going so well too, right up until about line 20 out of 39 when she suddenly took a massive left turn and wedged in a sentence about slipping on banana skins. I’m sure it made perfect sense to her and I’m sure if I had a window into her mind I’d understand why, but it did get me thinking.
As people we assume a lot of things, a lot of the time.
We assume that other people have common sense for one thing. Sadly this is not necessarily so, trust me, if you could see the lack of common sense embedded in this years batch of school children you’d be running for the hills. Seriously, one day those kids are going to be running our country. It’s a damn scary thought.
What seems weird though, is that as a writer I wouldn’t dream of assuming that my readers have the first idea what goes on inside my head. Good job too, it’s one hell of a mess in there. But, and I’ll be the first to admit this, I assume a hell of a lot of other things.
As a teacher it’s a fine line between assumption and acknowledging that my students have previous knowledge of things, a fine line that I have often fallen from. Take this last week for example. I’ve been tutoring several lovely kids in preparation for their GCSE English exams and so I’ve been working on the assumption that they already know the work, I just need to go through it with them.
So, instead of revision I’ve had to spend my sessions re-teach stuff. It’s mad, I suppose it’s that common sense thing I mentioned earlier.
The exam boards don’t make it easy either. Most of the Maths past papers are full of ambiguous questions and massive assumptions about what the person taking it knows. I can only imagine how infinitely stressful that must be, especially for those kids who aren’t exactly brimming with confidence.
Thank God I don’t write exam papers.I don’t think I could sleep at night knowing that I’ve purposely tried to trip up a whole mass of unsuspecting teenagers.
No. I think I’ll stick to fiction it’s much safer and if I happen to trip any of my characters up, at least I know they won’t come looking for me on exam results day.