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exam questionPrince Bertie the Frog's friend, Tim the Tadpole, is extremely upset because a certain person on the pond has called him "stupid" for not doing well at school. No prizes for guessing that the name of that person is Colin the Carp.

Read by Natasha. Proofread by Claire Deakin. Story by Bertie. Duration 15.02

... And this picture of Bertie and this Pondlife friends is by Phoebe Katsaiti, aged 6.

It was end of term at the Tadpole School, and all the tadpoles had to do exams. When Tim came home for the holidays, he was terribly excited about his results. He was turning in cartwheels and calling out, “Mummy, Mummy, can you guess where I came in class?”

Tim’s mum, who is of course a frog, saw that her youngest tadpole seemed ecstatically pleased and proud with himself, and she thought he must have done very well indeed.

“Er, did you come first?” She ventured.

“No -oh! You’ll never guess,” said Tim as he stopped to catch his breath.

“Er did you come first equal”


“Well then did you come second?”

Tim gave his mother a little tadpole kiss. “Oh Mummy. You’re taking simply ages to guess the right answer, and I can’t wait to tell you. I won a really really big number. The teacher told me that I came 2974th in my class. Isn’t that fantastic?”

Tim’s mother found it hard to smile sweetly, and her expression looked just a bit, well, weak. She didn’t want her little Tadpole to feel bad about himself, but at the same time she really would have preferred him to come first or first equal, or even second – or even third, come to that. She tried to think of something nice to say, which normally she was very good at, but this time it was quite hard.

Eventually she said softly to Tim, “Oh well darling. I suppose somebody’s got to come 2974th.”

Tim was very pleased, and he swam off to tell Colin the Carp - which wasn’t a good idea, because Colin isn’t quite as nice as Tim’s mummy. Colin would say that he’s a harbinger of the truth. But most people would say he’s just plain old rude, which only goes to show that everything depends on your point of view. Tim found him lurking around the east end of the pond, looking sinister, which is what carps are good at.

When Tim told him about his exam result, Colin replied, “I suppose you could say that’s a unique achievement.”

“Oh, thank you Colin, you always say the nicest things,” said Tim, with a happy smile on his face.

Then Colin couldn’t quite help himself. He just had add what is called the “sting in the tail” because that’s what Colin does. And so he muttered, “Uniquely stupid.”

And although Colin said this quietly, Tim heard it. When he thought about what Colin had said, all his excitement suddenly turned to sadness. He was so sad that he swam away crying.

“Oh no. Am I really really truly stupid? Oh it’s not good to be stupid, is it? Oh dear. Colin thinks I’m stupid… I feel really bad about myself now.”

And to tell you the truth, Colin felt rather guilty. It was an unusual feeling for Colin, and he wasn’t quite sure what to do about it. Eventually, he decided to go and tell Bertie the frog that Tim was a bit upset. When Bertie heard what had happened, he searched and searched the pond for his little friend. Finally he found him in the water under the overhang of the weeping willow tree. He seemed to be concentrating very hard on something.

“What are you doing here, all on your own, little Tim?” Asked Bertie.

“Counting green algae.”

Green algae are tiny little plants – so tiny that they are even smaller than tadpoles – and very hard to see; but lots of water creatures eat them because they are extremely nutritious.

“And how many algae have you counted?” Asked Bertie.

“Well I started at a million and I’m counting backwards. But now I’ve forgotten where I got to. Oh dear. Am I really really stupid Bertie?”

But Bertie assured him that he wasn’t at all stupid. He was just original.

“Is that just a big word for stupid?” Asked Tim, and he started to cry. Nothing Bertie could say would cheer him up. All Bertie could do was to lead him home, and when they got there Tim had cried so much that he was really quite exhausted. His mother tucked him up under a leaf, kissed him, and soon he was asleep.

She whispered to Bertie, “Oh dear. I know he’s never going to be the brightest tadpole in the pond, but I just want him to be happy.”

“Well I don’t accept that Tim’s stupid,” said Bertie. “He’s just silly, which is another way of saying he gets overexcited sometimes. Don’t worry. We’ll teach him to pass his exams. There’s just a knack to them, that’s all. If you have the knack, and you work hard, you can’t fail. But if you start to think that you can’t do them, then you’ll get into a state and do worse and worse. We’ll work up a plan for him. A plan for success!”

Tim’s mother thought that Bertie was being really nice, but she wasn’t quite sure that he or anybody else could help Tim do better at school.

The next day Bertie took Tim for a swim around the pond, and while they swam he asked him all about his exams. First, he asked him how the geography exam was. And Tim said he didn’t know, because he got the time wrong, and he turned up just as it was finishing.

“I see,” said Bertie. “Rule number one. Ninety percent of success is just turning up. Always arrive at an exam half an hour early – and check and double check the timetable beforehand.”

Tim thought that Bertie’s advice was jolly interesting, because he hadn’t thought of that before.

Then Bertie asked him how the story composition went.

“Oh, I did really well in storytelling.” Bertie was pleased, because he kind of hoped that a little of his own storytelling skill would have rubbed off on Tim.

But then Tim went on. “I finished first by a mile. I just wrote, "Once upon a time. The end." Everyone else took ages to catch up.”

“Right,” said Bertie. “Rule number two. Slow and steady wins the race. Use all the time available.”.

Then he asked him how he did in mathematics.

“Oh not too bad,” said Tim. “The questions were really hard but I guessed all the answers.”

“Ah-ha. Rule number three,” said Bertie. “No guessing. And never panic, no matter how hard the questions seem at first. Keep a cool head and work your way steadily through them.”

And they swim on, while they thought about that one.

“Now finally, how was history?” Asked Bertie.

“Well I thought I did really well,” said Tim. “Because I wrote done some really funny answers.”

“Okay,” said Bertie. “Rule number four. Exams are no joking matter.”

And then Bertie gave Tim some more rules for exams...

"Before you do anything else, read through all the questions.
Make a plan for how much time you need on each answer.
Leave some time at the end to read through for mistakes."

And they swam around the pond three more times and made sure that Tim knew and understood all Bertie’s tips.

“So you see,” said Bertie, “Exams aren’t really about being clever. They are about having the right knack. Oh, and there’s hard work too. That’s the downside. But we can make learning fun.”

Bertie and the pondlife helped Tim with his lessons. Bertie taught Tim story composition – because making up stories is what Bertie does best. Harry the centipede helped Tim with mathematics, because he can count to a hundred on his feet. Colin helped Tim with History, because Colin is old and remembers a lot of it himself; and the the swallows helped Tim with Geography because they fly long distances every year and the see how all the land lies, as well as the seas. By the end of the holidays, Tim had learned more things than you would have ever thought possible for one Tadpole to hold in his tiny pin head at one time.
Then Tim went back to school and learned even more interesting things. When the exams came, he followed Bertie’s rules – and do you know what? He scored better marks than anyone else in his whole class. And it was a very big class indeed, because there are thousands of tadpoles in the pond.

But even though he scored top marks, he only came 2969th in class.

When Bertie understood that Tim had scored top marks, but was still 2969th in his class, he went to see the teacher to ask how this could be. The teacher told him that the school had a rule that you could only improve by five places in each exam, because to improve by more than that was impossible. Bertie said that was jolly unfair and the school should do more to encourage improvement. Tim swam around hanging his head low and saying that there was no point in working hard and doing well, because your efforts weren’t recognised.

But the next week Tim started at the Big School, and everything was new. There was no unfair rule about how much anyone could improve and Tim already knew lots of interesting things, and he also had the knack of doing exams. From then on, Tim did rather well at school. Although some people still call him silly every now and then, because he gets really excited and asks lots and lots of questions, nobody calls him stupid any more. Well Colin does sometimes - but that’s just Colin, and you shouldn’t take too much notice of what he says because he’s a grumpy old carp.

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