Saturday 27 July 2002, Language School Year, Milton Keynes, England

Today I received a letter in the post congratulating me for topping the Maths GCSE exam—UK’s middle school graduation exam—amongst the 240,000 takers this year. That was a surprise. The last term at Warminster had its ups and downs, but this exam was one of the last things on my mind. Our exams at Warminster were all internal but our Maths teacher, Mr. Phillips entered our class into the GCSE exam as he thought our knowledge was advanced enough. But none of us gave too much thought about it. It would be the only GCSE all of us took before we headed to our perspective A levels. And whatever results we got, nobody would ever ask about it. Instead, all my focus was on the IELTS exam—the English language exam universities required international students to take. This would surely be asked and an extra 0.5 points could mean the difference between whether one can be accepted by a university or not. I was very happy that I got a 7 at the end, high enough to meet the requirements of even Oxbridge and sparing me from having to take more English classes at A level.

On the other hand, the school application was a lot more difficult: I got rejected by all schools I applied but one—Hurtwood House. After some post-mortem analysis with Mr. McKeown, the problem was my knowledge in economics. Although Karl Marx wrote his Das Kapital in the British library, it seemed the ideas behind it had long been dropped in this country. Although England didn’t go as far as purging those who kept such views, it was still hard to pass these interviews believing free market was fundamentally flawed and doomed to fail. It was only Mr. Jackson—the headmaster of Hurtwood—who were willing to give me a chance. Otherwise, I was not sure where I would even end up.

Reading that letter about the way-better-than-expected result, however, brought out the deepest fear within me. I still remembered the consequence of my incredible Middle School Graduation Exam result in China two years ago. After the initial feeling of being invincible, there was that one whole year of having to drag myself to school as I knew I would understand very little and possibly be laughed at. There was also that talk I had to have with my parents where I admitted I was a total failure and asked to be bailed out. And there were those early days at Warminster when I hided under my duvet and cried as I found everything from food, drink, weather, clothes, English language, English culture and my classmates to be too hard to deal with. Just when I thought things were getting better, I could not believe it was happening again!

But the good news was that after having gone through it once, this time I had some idea over what to do. Let me just go and buy all the A level textbooks today and start learning them straight away, just in case the teachers at Hurtwood House decided to start from Chapter 4 as well. This time, I would be prepared.

Score: Me: 8, English: 5,392