“Candidates,” the voice boomed into the speaker system echoing across the high ceiling of the convention center.
“Reading time begins…now.”
I felt like I was in the Hunger Games.
3,000 final exam test booklets were flipped over in almost complete unison as students started trying to memorize and work through the test answers in the special 30 minutes allotted to them before the exam time actually began. Special instructors had been hired to continuously walk up and down the aisles to make sure no one had a pen or pencil in hand- reading time is only for reading. Get caught writing and its the equivalent of cheating. Their presence had freaked me out. They held their hands tightly against their backs or held clip boards to their chests as they peered over shoulders or would momentarily stop to watch a student work out a problem to ensure they were doing their own work.
For one moment before I began reading my own exam I allowed myself to take note of my surroundings. I was sitting at a desk that had a perfectly measured distance between it and the surrounding desks; precisely enough of a space that no one could sneak glances at some one else’s exam. The rows of desks seemed to extend indefinitely and at each one a student was hunched over an exam. Besides the sound of pages turning there was complete silence in the cavernous convention center. I had seen the building before and had wanted to explore inside it but taking my final exam for my most hated class was not the way I had wanted to experience it. Too bad I did not have a choice.
I looked down resignedly at my 43 paged Logic exam, it seemed as a thick as a textbook. I had struggled all semester with Logic knowing I needed this math credit in order to receive my diploma from GWU in May. And after all the pain and struggling I sat in this room worrying the same thing I had heard many of my other class mates worry about: Thanks to the bell curve, we did not know if we would pass the exam let alone pass the class. It had been a much harder class then many of us had anticipated and although there were some star students destined to become mathematical geniuses my friends and I were not among them.
I sympathized with Katniss Everdeen as she stood on her platform waiting for the announcer to countdown the start of the Hunger Games. If Katniss jumped off the platform too soon she would be blown up into tiny pieces. If I had so much as bent the edges of the exam towards me before reading time officially began I would have been booted out of the exam hall with a big fat zero to fill in the space of my exam score. Katniss stood there not knowing if she was going to live or die in the next few moments. I too sat there uncertain of my near future. Once I opened my test booklet and started scanning through the questions I would know whether or not I had a shot of passing the exam. And if the exam was impossible I may as well be good as dead. I was already going to just make it to graduation by overloading on classes during my senior year in order to fulfill all my graduation requirements. Without this credit it might just tip the scales out of my favor to graduate in May.
I started scanning through trying pep talk myself that I knew the answers. I got to a page that I had a question about and tentatively raised my hand. A serious looking man with a clipboard came over and noted the time and my desk number on his paper. Then he asked me what my question was. In whispered tones, I explained my confusion about one of the questions and he jotted down notes as I spoke. When I was finished talking he summarized my question and asked me if he had recorded it correctly. I said yes. He then told me he would confer with my professor to see if he could answer my question and, if so, to what degree he could answer my question. I thought it was a bit over the top that my professor could not just come over and answer my question directly but agreed to wait until he returned with my professors answer. In the meantime I continued scanning through the rest of the questions until the man with the clip board returned 5 minutes later to inform me he could answer my question. It seemed I had timed it perfectly because no sooner had he left my desk when the voice came back on through the loud speakers making me jump in my seat. ”Candidates,” why the hell can’t they just call us students? I remembered thinking. ”Your exam time begins now.”
Now I was allowed to touch my pencil. I grabbed at it and started writing as fast as I could hoping three hours was enough time to get through the 43 pages of the exam.