Tag Archives: exams

Easy A

Context: LJ, a former student of a private all-girls school in London revealed to me a unique legend that circulated during her time there. With biennial exams being the center of their curriculum, LJ explained how a legend came about amongst the students to unify themselves during the stress of exams and to make humor out of the extreme pressures that were being put on them as these 2 sets of exams were the sole indicators of their academic achievements within school to show off to higher level learning institutions.

Text: “I went to a private all girls school in London where we would have to take national standardized tests at the end of every 2 years for different classes. At the end of year 11 we would take our GCSE’s which were a bunch of exams on the classes we had been taking for the past 2 years and at the end of year 13 we would take our A levels, which were exams based on the 3 subjects we had been exclusively studying for those past two years.Throughout those 4 years from year 10-13 there was this legend that if someone died in the exam room whilst a GCSE or A-Level took place then everyone in the room would get an A* or a 9(the highest grade depending on if A-Level or GCSE). There was also a similar concept of if someone went into labor during the exam then that person would receive an A* or 9 as well. During exam/ study times there would be lots of jokes made surrounding someone “taking one for the team” implying a student taking the exam should literally sacrifice themselves in the room so that the entire class can get a perfect grade. Similarly, 9 months before those exams girls would make jokes about needing to get pregnant so they could time their birthing to be during an exam. All this being said, this ideology was never confirmed by any teacher or exam board but was commonly known across the London private school kids as the loophole to getting a perfect grade on an exam.”

Analysis: I believe that this legend works as a testimony to the British educational system’s impact on student well-being. It shows how the pursuit of academic excellence can lead to unhealthy levels of competition and that the humor in this legend serves as a rebellion against the system, poking fun at sacrificing the life of a classmate to attain a good grade. This underscores both the rigorous level of academia that students in this system seemed to be struggling with, but also the collective wish for a miraculous escape from the pressures of exam taking. Ultimately I think this legend is a reminder of the need for balance in educational pursuit and the importance of addressing issues involving mental health and general wellbeing of students.

Hanging Conan


“Gatsby” is a college student at Stony Brook University in New York. He is also a rapper. During the pandemic, he was unable to complete his college courses in-person in New York, and particcipated in a Go-Local program at Southern University of Science and Technology (SUSTech), where he is taking several in-person courses, instead.

He shared the following folklore with me during an interview when we were having dinner together.

The Main Piece:
In Chinese universities, a lot of students will hang a poster of Detective Conan on their walls before taking exams. This is like a ritual, and the students are hoping to pass the exam by doing so.

Hanging the poster of Detective Conan is said as “hanging Conan”

in Chinese:挂(hang) 柯南(conan)

                     Gua              Ke Na

The sound “Gua Ke Nan” is also the pronounciation for “it is difficult to fail”

                挂科(fail the exam)   难 (difficult)

                Gua Ke                           Nan

So Chinese students hang posters of Conan to hope that it is going to be super difficult for them to fail, which implies that they will pass.



The kids draw connection between two events that are entirely unrelated to one another through their identical pronounciations. 

Exams are in deed a painful thing. Although a poster cannot really help students pass the exam, making fun of it is a good way to relieve pressure. It is being spread rapidly through the internet where college students communicate with each other, and it reflects the students’ anxiety for exams as well as their humorous ways of making fun of exams.



College Studying Murder Story


J, a 22-year-old, Caucasian male who grew up in San Francisco, California until he turned 16. He now lives in Boise, Idaho. He spent his summers at summer camp with his friends.

Background info:

During summer camps, counselors and children would sit around a firepit at night and tell stories. While some of these were positive, most of them would be told with the aim of scaring people. This is one of the stories told to J during one of these sessions.


This was told amongst a group of friends sitting in a circle around a firepit late at night, slightly intoxicated, telling each other their favorite scary stories they heard as children.

Main piece:

“This story was told to me by a counselor who was actually in his freshman year of college. It goes something like this… There are two college roommates, Briona and Ellee, who are in the same math class and have a bit midterm in the morning… Briona decides to stay in and study, while Ellee goes out to party with a guy in the same class. *pause for childish laughing*… After a while, Ellee returns to find the lights out and Briona in bed asleep. To be courteous, Ellee does her nighttime routine in the dark before going to bed… *beep beep beep, beep beep beep, beep beep beep*… Sleepily, Ellee climbs out of bed and walks over to wake Briona… She rubs the sleep out of her eyes and notices the blood-soaked bed and stiff body of Ellee. On the wall above her, the words ‘Aren’t you glad you didn’t turn on the light?’ are scribbled in blood…”


As I read back through this transcript, I wish it could better capture the feeling of this piece. The ambiance of the environment in which it was told played into it with the cold, quiet, dark night with the flames casting shadows around us, making us feel as if we were not alone. I think the story was interesting coming from J, as he never went to traditional college. However, it was still an effective ‘scary’ story for us since we all knew what it was like to share a room with a person you haven’t known for very long. Things are often represented in sets of three, and this one used the alarm beeping in threes to give the listeners something familiar before the big reveal. The writing in blood is a common element in scary stories, but it implies so much more in this story that it played a larger part than it normally does. J was unsure of which names were meant to be used in the story but didn’t think they were terribly important.

Baccalaureate Audacity


Um, so we have a story for — about a student who took the French baccalaureate, and um … when it comes to the philosophy exam, it’s always like … it’ll be some like weird question sometimes. And apparently one year, the question was “what is audacity?” And, we have four hours to complete this test. So, some kids are writing like eight pages long, and some kids were writing like basically nothing. And other people, like there are other things you can choose to do if you’re taking the philosophy exam, it doesn’t have to be like one question, so people were doing other things. But, you can’t leave the exam until about an hour or two into it. So, this kid wrote one thing on his paper. It was literally a line long. And then… uh, kind of looks at his desk. And everyone’s kind of looking around wondering what’s happening. And uh, ‘cause we can’t mind our own business. But, um… So what happens is, once the hour — the first hour– is up, he goes and he turns that in and leaves. And, when everyone gets their results, you know we have a tendency of telling each other our results. So, what happens is, he gets his results, and his friends — obviously everyone’s asking what they got. They ask him and he said he got a perfect score, so 20 out of 20 in our case. And they said “what? We saw you. You only put one sentence. What did you say? And to the answer… to the question “what is audacity?” his answer is “this is audacity.” And just turned that in.


This piece of folklore came up when a couple of college freshmen were sitting around a dorm room discussing senior year exams and the college application process. When the informant began to tell this story, I rushed and got my camera to record it. The informant said that the initial context she heard it, and would typically hear it, was when her and her high school classmates were discussing baccalaureate exams, usually right before they happened.


According to the informant, this legend was told during times of high stress in the baccalaureate process. Since those exams are so important and determine the student’s ability to get into the college they want, there is a lot of anxiety surrounding them. I think that this piece of folklore is spread to relieve some of the stress of the upcoming exams. It implies that you don’t have to do the longest and most elaborate work to be successful. Also, the fact that the main question in the legend is “what is audacity?” might imply that the more important thing when dealing with anxiety over the future is to just be audacious and bold.

Don’t Wash Your Hair

Don’t Wash Your Hair

The Informant:

She was born in Cerritos, CA and has lived there her whole life with her family. Her parents were born in Korea but immigrated to the U.S. in their teens. They live a less traditional Asian lives than others.

The superstition:

If you wash your hair at night after you study, everything you memorized and learned up till then will be lost.

She also repeated the text in Korean for me:

공부하고 자기전에 머리를 가므면 외운거 다 지워진다, 잊어버려. 그거야 그냥 장난이지.

 The Analysis:

This story was told to my friend before her big exam when she was in middle school. It is analogous to the idea that washing her hair will also wash out everything in her head that was stored up till that point. She says that the story was told by her mother, who had then heard it from her mother back in Korea. An insight that I gained was the Korea is surrounded by water. Korean life is also dominated by water, with rivers and the ocean. It is a possibility that this saying sprung up due to the Korean affinity for water, which later might have turned into a repulsion of so much water.

It is difficult to understand the insight on a less literal analysis.