Last week while hunting for something up in our loft, I came across a collection of exam papers. Here were all my old GCE and A level papers, plus most of my University exams. It makes interesting reading—decades on.
For a start, I still know quite a lot of the O level stuff; I'm pretty sure I could still get A in Maths and German, though not so sure how good my grades would be in the other subjects. The A levels are another story. My Maths papers are full of names and terms which ring bells, but unfortunately distant ones. "De Moivre's Theorem". Ah, I remember that! No, turns out I only remember the name. Looking it up brought some recognition, but not a lot. The Physics A level was better, which was odd given that I went on to University to do more Maths, not Physics.
As for my Uni papers? Well, to be honest I couldn't even remembering knowing most of it. I had put a star next to the questions I'd answered during the exams, but I wouldn't have been able to tell otherwise: they looked equally baffling. The Computer Science papers were considerably more understandable, which is probably just as well seeing as how I went on to a career of programming. I can still do all the questions that I can actually understand, but in some the terminology must have changed or gone out of fashion.
So what can I conclude? That most of my education after the age of 16 was a waste of time? Not very happy with that suggestion.
I'd like to think that the heart of the matter is a feature of Mathematics. University standard Maths is so abstract that, if you don't use it all the time, you quickly forget it. Since I graduated I've had precious few occasions to use what I learned, and so it's gone. I can only be grateful that back in those days you didn't leave University with five figures of debt. Paying off a loan that size for years when you'd already forgotten most of what you'd learned: that must sting.