By staff writer E.E. Southerby
Volume 80 – May 9, 2004
“Please Ensure You Have the Correct Number of Jokes Before Continuing”
Now Playing: “Dead Girls” by Voltaire
Hello and welcome to the exciting and/or not exciting continuation of the “Exams” series. I'm sure most of you have come over here for some relief from the misdirected anger of some unnamed Points in Case columnist who apparently was denied parole this week and decided to take it out on me. But there's no time to waste on a shouting match, folks! Exam time is rolling towards us faster than those giant logs in Pitfall, and so I present to you a much-needed primer on finals. Praise Allah! Here's what happened:
-Chances are, at some point in your college career, you will be faced with a multiple choice exam. Sometimes this will be a good old-fashioned test of knowledge, with one correct answer mixed in with 3 or 4 incorrect ones. More often, though, you will receive a “multiple” choice exam consisting of over 10 choices, always including “all of the above,” “none of the above,” and the dreaded “more than one of the above”. Let's get something straight here: That's not multiple choice. That's infinite choice. Stephen Hawking himself couldn't deduce the answer from those options. If the prof is going to mentally fist me I wish he'd at least have the decency to call the test what it really is: “Pick (c) at Random and Hope for the Best.” Either that or at least use some lubricant.
-Another popular exam type is the “long answer,” or “essay” exam. This exam usually contains one or two very brief sentences, followed by the ubiquitous word “Discuss.” You get a booklet filled with empty, lined pages (although technically the lines preclude the pages from being empty) and you have two hours to churn out what invariably turns out to be a rambling, incoherent series of sentence fragments, not entirely unlike this column. Your best bet is to answer a completely different question from the one posed, and mask this insolence with prohibitively poor penmanship. It doesn't matter what you write down, you could be writing erotic Dragonball fanfiction for all I care, so long as you JUST KEEP WRITING AND MAKE IT UNINTELLIGIBLE. Use your other hand if you have to. The prof will have no choice but to give you a passing grade to cover up the fact that they can't read a word you wrote. After all, he wouldn't want to look stupid in front of his students.
-It may seem as though there is no exam easier than a true/false test. After all, there's only two options, right? Either the statement is the cold, irrefutable truth or a dirty goddamned lie. True: Your professor will tell you that, because of the subtlety of the questions posed, this test will be just as difficult as an essay or multiplechoice test. False: Your professor wouldn't lie about something as important as this. True/false tests are the easiest tests known to personkind. I once saw a chicken in Arizona that could play tic-tac-toe and win. I have no doubt it could also be trained to peck a T or F into the dirt or corn or whatever the hell chickens walk on. If you can't ace a true/false test you might as well find yourself a fez and an accordion, because the only career you'll ever have will involve people throwing pennies, you pathetic organ-grinding chimp. And that's the truth.
-Off-Topic Corner Live: I saw a giant banner on a sidewalk bench that said “You Just Proved Bench Advertising Works,” along with a phone number to call to place your own ad in that space. I chuckled for a moment, thinking how cool it would be to advertise Text-Heavy that way. Then I forgot the number and never thought about the idea ever again. So I guess that proves it doesn't. Discuss.
-While you're writing an exam, the invigilator (who's so desperate for a reason to exist that he actually gave an important-sounding name to a job that consists entirely of sitting at a desk and drinking coffee, not entirely unlike my own) will be charged with the uber-important task of keeping time. This will probably be done by way of an analog clock drawn on the blackboard, which, thanks to modern anti-racism legislation, is no longer permitted to be black. It could be green or magenta or key-lime. But not black. Anyway, some invigilators will alter the analog clock to reflect the correct time once every half hour. Some every fifteen minutes. However, on occasion you get those rare test invigilators who love their job so much that they'll change the time on the chalk clock every 5 minutes. If you point out that this will still make the clock inaccurate for 80% of the minutes, you might be able to get the guy to actually change the time at the front of the room every single minute. Bonus points if you can convince him to add a second hand.
-The first page of every exam will invariably contain the course title, the date, and a statement such as “This exam contains 11 pages, including the one you are reading now. Please make sure you have the correct number of pages before you begin.” Is this really necessary? Not the part about telling you how many pages the exam has. I'm sure there have been plenty of people who finished an exam that, due to clerical error, was only a quarter the length it was meant to be and they thought they were pretty darn clever for being the first one to leave. I'm talking about the part that says “including the one you are reading now.” Couldn't they eliminate that page and make each exam 10 pages long instead? Where's Greenpeace when you need them?
-The last page of every exam contains a spiritually uplifting end-of-semester message, such as “Have a Good Summer!” or “Godspeed, Masked Avenger!” If you are taking a science course, the last page will also contain a Far Side cartoon with a link to the subject at hand that is tenuous, at best. Like that one with young Albert Einstein as a punk-ass scientist with a mohawk. I guess the spiritually uplifting message there is “Not only did you just fail the course that will keep you out of grad school, but you can't even understand vaguely esoteric comic strips. Have a good summer!”
-Over time, universities have developed unbelievably strict rules to keep you, the modern hoodlum, from cheating on your exam. For example, they have banned water bottles, sunglasses, headphones, baseball caps and just about anything else on which you could potentially write answers from the examination room. Apparently people aren't just cheating, they're cheating in ways that are both genuinely creative and prohibitively time consuming. If you have the motivation to write out all your notes on the inside of a pair of sunglasses I think you deserve an A. Some wily invigilators even hold your calculator up to the light to make sure you haven't etched formulas on the case like hieroglyphics. Somebody pointed out that none of this stops people from simply leaving to go to the washroom and checking their notes while they're at it, so now if you have to pee they send a guy with you to the lavatory to keep things in line. I imagine next year they'll begin performing digital rectal exams before and after you leave the room. And I'm okay with that so long as they don't make me take off my sunglasses.
-For all their overprotective anti-cheating measures, I'd have to say the one that's least productive of all is when they make you take your student card with you to the exam, so they can verify that it's actually you who is writing this exam and not your smart Asian friend. People have no problem using a fake ID to get into bars. Why on Earth would an exam be any different? The only difference is instead of looking for someone who kinda sorta but not really looks like you and is of drinking age, you want to find someone who kinda sorta but not really looks like you and has an IQ high enough to beat a chicken at tic-tac-toe. I bet he'll understand that comic strip.
-Quote of the Moment: The stress of an exam can make people say irrelevant and frequently hilarious things. While I was writing a final, someone across the room blurted out, totally out of nowhere: “Hey! Why is everyone named Bertha fat?” After a moment of confusion, I replied: “How many people named Bertha do you even know?” My theory is that nobody's ever called their daughter Bertha because of the stigma attached to the name. Do you agree or disagree? Discuss. You have 11, no, 10 minutes.