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A Math Exam

By , Pullman, WA
I’m sitting in a big classroom, waiting for the first math exam of the semester to start. The chairs are like the ones in theaters and they’re very comfortable. Everyone is flipping through their notes so I take my notebook out and start flipping but I’m not really reading it. People keep coming in and fill the blue, soft chairs one by one. For a minute, the only sound in the room is the flipping of papers. But then, another person comes in and the door makes a metallic sound. After a while, most people give up last-minute studying and the sound of papers stop. A few people talk quietly. I look at my watch and there are still seven minutes left until the exam is supposed to start. I look up from my watch and see that the instructor and the TA are standing at the front of the classroom. I’ve never seen the TA before, and somehow I had imagined him as a very skinny person with black hair because of his name. This is not true. He is neither skinny nor fat, has brown hair, and wears glasses. When I think he realizes that I am staring at him, I shift my eyes to the instructor. The light is reflected on his bald head. He says that we have to sit on every other seat as several people come in. People who sat right next to each other stand up and sit on another seat. More and more people start coming in and it is not possible for everyone to sit on every other seat anymore. The instructor tells them to fill up the first row. I am sitting in the second row and I hope that people will stop coming in because then they would sit right next to me. From my numerous test-taking experiences, I know that elbow room is very, very important. Unfortunately, people keep coming in through the back door and the front door. Soon, there are two people sitting on either side of me. The person on my left is wearing sweatpants and has an unusually large bag. As soon as he sits down, he throws his bag on the floor, unfolds the desk, and collapses on it. The person on my right is wearing a brown jacket and he looks more alert than the person on my left. However, he keeps sighing as if he is worried that he might not be ready for the exam. I feel very tired and hope that there is no homework to do on the weekend because I only want to rest. I also feel hungry. Less people are talking now because it is almost six o’clock. The instructor says that there are problems in the exam that he hasn’t spent much time explaining in class. Why is he saying this now? It is not going to make any difference. I see the stapled stacks of paper that are on the desk in front of the classroom. The TA grabs them and starts giving a few to the people sitting at the end of each row. It takes a while to pass them around. From my right, I get two exams and pass one to my left. From the corner of my eyes, I see the blank expression of the person on my left. In contrast, the person in my right is already writing down his name and ID number. I take my ID card out although I know what my number is. I write down my name and ID. I glance at the first problem and see that it’s an easy one. I wait for the instructor to say that we can start the exam. When I look up, he says that we can start if we have the exam and that we have one hour to finish it. I look at the back of the test and see that there are twenty five problems total. I try to calculate in my head how many minutes I have for a problem. Sixty divided by twenty five is twelve over five; I have 2.4 minutes per problem. But that doesn’t leave me time to check my answers one more time. So I decide that I will try to solve one problem in two minutes. During my planning, the exams have been passed around to everyone. The collective rustling sound tells me that many people are also wondering the number of problems on the test. I position my eraser so that I can grab it easily. Hoping that I don’t suffer a sudden mathematic amnesia, I start reading the first problem.

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