A view from the other side

What’s it like to be an examiner? Adilah Ismail finds out just that from Philip Thrupp and Christopher Young, examiners in Speech and Drama subjects for Trinity Guildhall

The word ‘exam’ conjures the most traumatic memories. Obscure recollections of sweaty palms, erratic bouts of anxiety, Freudian slips and of course, stern examiners. In short, memories of exams aren’t the type of rose tinted recollections that one looks back at with fondness and nostalgia.

We’ve all been through some form of examination at some point in our lives. We’ve had the proverbial butterflies fluttering around our stomachs; we’ve reached out for the doorknob with dread and walked into the room with an impending feeling of doom.

Philip Thrupp

But have you ever wondered what it’s like to be on the opposite side of the room? To sit on the other side of the desk and placate the anxious candidates, (almost painfully) smiling at you, while silently encouraging them to do their best?

The Sunday Times caught up with Philip Thrupp and Christopher Young, examiners in Speech and Drama subjects for Trinity Guildhall amidst exams to find out their story.

“It’s endlessly entertaining,” smiles Philip candidly. With 22 years of experience and having examined in Johannesburg, Sydney, Los Angeles and Melbourne, Philip was also invited to be a patron of IEMS, the largest speech and drama institute in Sri Lanka. “I had a six- year-old boy who gazed at me solemnly and asked me ‘Uncle, how old are you?’ ‘I’m 100 years old’, I replied to the astonished boy,” laughed Philip.

“I’m amazed at the courage which comes into the room and how well the students are prepared for the exam,” said Christopher. Having worked as an educational consultant specializing in Arts education and training, and with vast experience in training actors and directing, he says that he is extremely privileged to work in the arts. Chris is on his third visit to Sri Lanka.

“It is an insecure examiner who bullies candidates. We want to encourage the candidates to express themselves. We’re not looking at a person’s faults or to take points away. We’re looking for their strengths,” emphasized Christopher. “We know automatically when the child is uncertain about a section and instinctively we skip to something that the child knows,” added Philip.

Reiterating that the objective of an examiner is to be impartial and to find out what the candidate knows, Philip and Christopher both feel they are promoting skills for life. Even if candidates don’t pursue a career in the arts in the future, these exams allow the candidate to gain confidence, poise and love and appreciation of the arts.

Christopher Young

The key component in a Speech and Drama examination is understanding, clarity and the ability to convey the author’s intention to the audience (in this case, the examiner). In examination--based performances, the examiner looks at specific components of the performance in isolation and analyzes them as opposed to theatre--based performances, where the entire performance is judged as a whole.

Christopher was also judging the Interschool Drama Competition 2009 (a drama examination with a competition) organized by Trinity Guildhall London in collaboration with Cambridge International Examinations and Alethea International School which took place from October 8 - 10. The winners were awarded an internationally recognized qualification and certificates from Trinity College London -equivalent to four university points as they were graded at level 8, (holders of level 8 qualifications are just a step away from obtaining a diploma in teaching drama).

Both Philip and Christopher affirm that the standards in Sri Lanka are extremely high, considering that English is second language for most. “And it’s always nice to see Sri Lankan students celebrating the work of local writers,” added Christopher.

“It’s constantly hard to keep a straight face at times. Examiners need to have a sense of humour,” quips Philip, “when a person can connect through humour, it is a delight.” Explaining that although during his childhood (not so long ago, he insists) they remained intimidated by the examiner, he feels it is the examiner’s duty to allow the students to flourish and express themselves.

Both remain avid fans of Sri Lankan cuisine and spend their leisure engaging in a variety of activities. Christopher is currently working on his first book which will be published next year and also frequents art exhibitions while Philip has travelled all over Sri Lanka and has even visited the East.

“When the plane touches down, it feels like coming home” said Philip, who’s currently on his 29th visit to the country. Explaining that travelling to numerous countries provides a wonderful opportunity to experience and absorb other cultures, Philip recounted with pleasure, his first experience at a Ramazan festival he attended last month.

Christopher, comparing Sri Lanka to a veritable Garden of Eden with an abundance of resources, expressed his delight at the freshness of the vegetable and fruit produce he chanced upon at a street market recently. “If you’re tired of Sri Lanka, you’re tired of life,” he smiles.

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