When I chose my AS subjects about a year ago I chose based essentially on three main criteria: whether I enjoy the subjects, whether I’m any good at them (this immediately ruled out History), and whether they’d be any use in the future. I also appear to have managed to choose the most competitive subjects available: right now, almost every subject I’m doing has some competition which I’m involved in (voluntarily or not!). In fact, most of the things I’m involved in at school are highly competitive at this time of the year, including extra-curricular activities such as music and young enterprise. Here’s a run-through of the competitions I’m in:
Maths: BMO (early December), BMO2 which I failed to get into (January), Hans Woyda (throughout the year more or less)
Chemistry: Olympiad (early February)
Physics: Olympiad (late February)
Economics: Barnett Economics Essay (mid February)
Music: Strings competition (late January), Piano competition (early February), Music competition finals (late April)
Computing: BIO (mid December), BIO2 (mid March)
So December had two, January had two and February will have four. Having said that, it’s not all bad. In fact I’m not even complaining, especially considering the conversation I had with this person in Slovenia:
Person: got an English competition coming up :)
Person: a competition tomorrow…
Person: the day after tomorrow
Person: the day after that
Person: and 2 days after THAT
Person: and a day after that
Person: so I got… 4 competitions coming up
Person: English competition, then amateur radio, then physics then chem
Me: holy crap
Person: 2 competitions tomorrow, actually
Person: but due to the lack of communication between the organizers, I won’t be able to attend them both
Person: there’s computer programming and English
Person: but English is regional, computer programming is school
Me: does this level of competitioning happen on a weekly basis?
Person: always on the start of Feb
Person: except for logics, which is sept
Person: and maths, which comes later
Person: everything else, around this time
Person: dunno why
Person: it’s idiotic
Instinctively one’s reaction is just like mine: ‘holy crap!’ (or ‘holy Xenu!’ or ‘his noodly appendages!’) but it’s not all bad.
Competitioning is certainly rather stressful. In the junior school it was really all a bit of fun: everyone knows the Maths olympiads are hugely difficult and nobody is really expected to get a vaguely decent mark. However at this stage of my education, expectations are beginning to rise from “5% is _really_ good, well done!” to “anything above 60% is OK I guess” to “you lost _one_ mark!? you muppet!”. And you really know things are getting serious when the entire Chemistry department give up an hour or two after school to train the L8 to do olympiad problems. The pressure really starts to mount, and I increasingly stop to reconsider my involvement in extra-curricular activities as I toil ever-further into the night to finish olympiad-related homework after a night’s editing of articles. To make things worse, some of these olympiads will be the last we sit before applying for university so it is absolutely imperative for some of us to do well in this round of olympiads to have much hope of getting into Cambridge. As you can imagine, my stress levels are high as a result.
On the other hand, I am still completely in favour of olympiads. Although I’m attending one of the best schools in the world, there are still far too many homeworks and lessons in which the entire class ends up mechanically hammering out answers to the same question over and over again using a formula: as Mr Toller put it, “bashing things doesn’t take any thought”. Olympiads actually rarely involve bash methods, and many of the problems require a large amount of lateral, diagonal and (often on my part) convoluted thinking which tends to result in a deeper (or more confused) understanding of how the subject works, which in my opinion is an opportunity which should never be missed. I guess that’s why I appreciate Dr Leversha’s homeworks so much!
The question still remains I guess of why the subjects I’ve chosen seem to be the most competitive. I never hear anything of a Geography or English olympiad – why must Physics and Chemistry have them? In fact, until this year a Biology olympiad was unheard of. I suspect is has something to do with my taste in subjects. I love anything in which there are a few fundamental principles/ideas from which a huge amount of theory and thought-provoking thinking (and stuff) stems. I also can’t resist a good challenge, even if I completely fail. Olympiads tend to be all about testing the depth of one’s understanding of very basic principles and tough challenges. I notice a connection here… It’s true that I’m just inexorably drawn towards anything with the words ‘off-syllabus’ attached – maybe that’s the reason? Or perhaps there really is a History competition that I’m not aware of, in which case it must be just coincidence and what I’m saying is complete nonsense, as always :P
I feel I need to conclude somehow like Farhan does with ‘Pax’ but that would just be copying. I think have a better substitute: