The history of exams at St Andrews- Part II

Wednesday 9 May 2018

Last semester we looked at the former methods of examination and some of the past exam papers. This semester we take a further look at the history of exams at St Andrews, in particular the experiences of 20th century students taking exams, as revealed in the personal papers of some former students and academics.

Walter Lamb Davidson was a student at St Andrews, graduating with a BSc (Hons), second class, in Chemistry in 1946 and a PhD in 1949 under the supervision of Professor John Read. His view of the Physical Chemistry exam he sat in 1943 is evident when you take a look at his copy of the exam paper. Lamb has annotated it with a curse upon Dr J.Y. Macdonald, whom we assume set the paper. We of course do not condone setting a curse upon your tutors!

Physical Chemistry paper sat by Walter Lamb Davidson in 1943

I, Walter Lamb Davidson
on this 14th day of December
1943 hereby lay my curse such as
it is upon the head of Dr. J. Y. Macdonald
he who is known as spots but
but should be known as Nuts.
a menace to all humanity
whose removal from this earth would be
a truly great benefit to all
May this be soon!

While it is not policy to retain exam scripts permanently within the University archive, some exam scripts have survived among the personal papers of some students and academics. Throughout the collections we have examples of past academics recycling exam scripts as notebooks for their own research. Because of this we have some examples of students’ work in the 1960s.

Dr Cant’s notes on the reverse of an exam script

Dr Ronald G Cant, lecturer in Medieval History at the University of St Andrews in 1935 and later Reader in Scottish History and Keeper of Muniments, often used exam scripts as notebooks for his own work. Here is an example of his notes on Aberdeen on the back of an exam script from 1967.

In the same files there are also a number of exam scripts of Cant’s students. Here are a few examples of the exam papers and the answers given by students in Scottish History subjects.

Example of a 1967 Scottish History paper, with the beginning of an answer to question 8 (student scripts have been anonymised).
Example of a 1968 Scottish History paper, with the beginning of an answer to question 3 (student scripts have been anonymised).

Some students have also donated their notes and papers from their time at University, including this script from a student who took an anatomy exam in 1952. We can confirm that this student would go on to qualify as a doctor and have a very successful career in the medical profession.

Exam script for a student sitting an Anatomy paper in 1952 (student scripts have been anonymised).

In a few weeks students will be logging in to their online student record to find out the results of their exams. Over 80 years ago, students received their results through the post! Included in the papers of Professor Rev. George W Anderson, a Classics graduate (MA Honours 1935) and Lecturer of Old Testament Literature and Theology at St Andrews from 1956 to 1958, are his exam results from 1932 and 1935. His results were sent to his home in Arbroath. He received a First Class Honours degree and went on to study the Theological Tripos at Cambridge. While having the results card may be a nice keepsake, students today may prefer checking for their results online rather than the agonising wait for the post!

Exam results for George W Anderson sent to him at home, 1932 and 1935

If you would like to consult any of the exam papers that the University Library’s Special Collections Division holds, dating back to the 19th century, please get in touch. We’ll anonymise them where necessary! For all those taking exams this term, happy revising!

Sarah Rodriguez
Principal Archives Assistant

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