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School days can sometimes seem like a very long time ago. You most likely spent 12 to 14 years of early life learning in a classroom, but how much can you remember? Sure, you can count, and you know your alphabet, but all those other lessons you had, how much can you really remember of those? If you want or need to remember back to your school lessons (to help your own children with their homework, to win pub quizzes, whatever the reason) then this book can help. Covering ten subjects from English and Maths to Science, Home Ec and History, it's a crash course to refresh your knowledge - all those things you kinda know deep down, but at the same time have forgotten at least a little bit.
My first observation is that if pretty much everything you need to know can be condensed into 400 pages and read over a couple of days, maybe the real purpose of school is less about education and more about simply keeping kids occupied and out of the way for a few years. At the same time, I'm wondering how there are things in this book that I was NEVER taught at school - what were we doing for all those years? But overall this is a book full of 'oh yeah' moments and I'm sure most readers will identify with the 'lessons' being re-taught. Take English, for example. From apostrophes to alliteration, commas to consonance, semi colons to similes, this chapter touches on the fundamentals of language and literature. I especially liked the examples where there were in jokes that some might not get, and this wouldn't matter, but most would understand and smile in recognition.
"Gwendoline is rather nasty. She is holding Mary-Lou under the water." - to show the use of full stops.
"Miss Grayling, the headmistress; Miss Potts, the first-form teacher; Mr Young, the music teacher; Mam'zelle Dupont, the French teacher." - to show commas and semi-colons.
Obviously it's hard to condense many years of literature study into a few pages, and indeed several of the works referenced were ones I never studied so I especially liked the Speed Reading section which summarised the likes of Tolstoy, Austen and Dickens into just a line or two.
Moving on to Maths I found I'd not forgotten much - I still know my mean from my mode and median, can do long division and am reasonably well up on my shapes in geometry. Home Ec was a reference guide as much as anything, great for converting g to oz or gas marks to degrees C (I always used gas mark 5 or 200 C, assuming incorrectly that these were the same. They are not. This may be why my cookies always burn). This chapter also includes areas never covered in my (girls') school - how to tie a tie - plus stuff I only learnt as an adult working in a hospital - how to do hospital corners. Maybe there are schools who teach these things, or maybe the authors have just decided that they're things you probably picked up along the way (or should have done, at any rate).
History is back on track with old-school facts - lots of dates, kings and queens, and wars to swot up on. And Science, RE, Geography, Classics (inc. Latin), PE and Art are similarly rather reminiscent of what we did in school with just a few extras (at the aforementioned girls' school, we never did the rules of cricket for example).
Each chapter culminates with a test (answers at the back of the book) though lots of the questions are on things not covered in the preceding chapter, which is just mean.
I would never have imagined as a poor 13 year old that I would be saying such a thing, but years later I've found this book about school lessons quite entertaining (and educational, natch). It really does show you what you don't know, but also what you'd forgotten that you do know, and allows you to reflect on how much of what is taught in schools is directly useful in later life (geography, yes, being able to identify different types of dinosaurs, not so much). We spent a week 'testing' each other on our lunch breaks at work to see which generation and nationality won the title of best educated (or at least best memory) and while it's not a traditional quiz book, you can use it in this way.
Overall, an easy to read book that made me smile but also taught and re-taught me a few things in a nice, painless way. If only school has been quite so fun.
This review first appeared on www.thebookbag.co.uk
Out now in paperback and hardback, there's also an 'advanced homework' version available, and a quiz book too.