Lord Skidelsky: Takes Exam. Flunks.

Historians in the News

Lucy Ward, writing in the Guardian (Dec. 9, 2003):

Students take heart. Lord Skidelsky, the internationally renowned historian and professor of political economy at Warwick University, has revealed how he failed an A-level paper this summer because of his "inability to develop a coherent argument".

Robert Skidelsky, 64, author of an award-winning biography of John Maynard Keynes, makes his disclosure in today's Guardian education supplement. He says his attempts to sit an A-level in Russian, the birth language of his parents and a late love in his life, were dented when the exam board Edexcel gave him 26 out of 90 marks for an analysis of Russian unemployment.

Despite being "confident about the topic" - through teaching economics and discussions with many of Russia's reformers - he failed the paper, and saw his overall exam grade fall from an A to a B as a result. Lord Skidelsky, whose Keynes biography won the Wolfson prize for history and Duff Cooper prize for biography, appealed for a re-mark. The result was a condemnation of his inability to think straight, together with a strong hint that he was too clever by half. A letter from the board stated: "I cannot accept . . . that the candidate's own as sessment of his performance is sufficient to cast doubt on the assessment of the principal examiner."

Yesterday, a spokeswoman for Edexcel said Lord Skidelsky had been given the right mark: "People who approach an examination with a greater knowledge than the level required will often over-answer a question. They put in lots of extra information that is actually not relevant to what they have been asked."

Lord Skidelsky, a crossbencher in the Lords, said plans to continue learning Russian, but not to enter any more public examinations.

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