When I was at primary school we had weekly spelling tests.
I always did brilliantly at them. I didn’t even have to try. Because I read so much, I was just a natural at spelling, and so I’d give these lists a once-over and I’d know them all.
Other people sat there writing them out again and again. Other people learned them. I didn’t need to.
One day, when I was about nine or ten, we had a spelling test. I got two words wrong. A girl in my class called Catherine got one word wrong.
Now, I didn’t like her. I mean, we actually hung out sometimes – I didn’t dislike her, but we had our grudges. When I took up the violin in year three she was in my group lessons. She never used to practice. She had this irritating pretend laugh – somewhat Umbridge-esque. Eventually she quit the instrument and we breathed a sigh of relief.
Which meant when she beat me in this spelling test, I wasn’t happy. She wasn’t as clever as me, I complained to myself. She didn’t deserve it!
We both got one of the same words wrong. But the one she got right that I got wrong? Biscuit.
I couldn’t remember how to spell biscuit. Was it buiscuit? Buiscit? I just couldn’t do it. And because I had assumed that I knew the words on the list, I hadn’t looked twice at what I thought was one of the easiest.
I’d never had to try.
Catherine, I found out later, was over the moon to come top of the class there. She’d practiced those words again and again, and her dad had tested her, and they were thrilled.
I’d never had to try.
It’s something I was thinking about last night when contemplating results day for GCSEs (today). My sister said to me a week or two ago, “Because you’ve never had to try, when you find something hard you don’t like it and you give up.”
And it’s true. I tend to give up when things are hard for me. I don’t like sciences because I find them hard – yet I actually got better results in them than in History, one of my favourites.
Catherine deserved to beat me because I got lazy. And exams aren’t about competition with other people, but it’s a way of motivating myself. “Work and you’ll get a higher grade than …” says my brain.
Until I was about twelve or thirteen everything came quite naturally and I didn’t have to try. Then I realised that some things were hard, even for me. And you have to put the effort in. But in the end it’s not about who came top in the class for the spelling test – it’s about whether you couldn’t spell “biscuit” because you thought you didn’t need to look over the list.
Oh, and by the way? Catherine and I later became pretty good friends, and we still see each other sometimes. Turns out she’s just as weird as I am, and us freaks gotta stick together.