Following Exam Instructions: A Cautionary Tale

Seriously, what kind of doofus would let a simple clerical error ruin weeks - no, months - of practice? Yep, that would be me.

Francesca Kavalir

October 09, 2014

Following Exam Instructions: A Cautionary Tale Following Exam Instructions: A Cautionary Tale

It’s difficult to suppress laughter when I think about the preposterous test mistakes our teachers warn against.

It’s pretty standard for every test. First, teachers run through how it’s forbidden to doodle in the margins and how a student’s academic career is in jeopardy should he or she dare to venture past lower right corner’s grey STOP sign.

It becomes increasingly difficult to contain chortles at diagrams illustrating proper bubble-filling techniques, implying that most students would either place an indistinguishable dot in each center or scribble blobs big enough to cover half the answer choices.

Besides those occasional, brief moments of panic that I skipped a number or two, I considered such blunders beneath me. Seriously, what kind of doofus would let a simple clerical error ruin weeks – no, months – of practice?

Yep, that would be me.

Let’s set the scene with the staunchly aligned desk rows of the typical test classroom. A bright June day waits outside while we all sat in anticipation, divided in either full gloom or anxiety, only arising to sharpen our No. 2 pencils.

My first SAT subject test did not seem to break the standard for standardized exams. After finishing my prep book, surviving the Chemistry AP exam and flipping through my notes all morning, I felt as ready as I ever would be to slam through those multiple choice sheets.

For me, though, “ready” did not necessarily mean calm and focused. I was more concentrated on polyatomic ions than the proctor’s rigmarole of repetitive test structure.

As I reached the chapter on semiconductors in my mental notebook, the first round of hand-cramping information bubbling commenced. And it wasn’t easy.

The College Board subject tests are a few levels past the bubbling skills of elementary school state assessments. The ever-curious scantron wants not only your full name and address, written and bubbled, but also information detailed enough to qualify as a personal background check.

I begin to fill out: selected test, school, email, parents’ emails, grandmother’s maiden name, third cousin’s home phone number and, in 25 letters or less, my heart’s greatest desire. Or, at least, something along those lines.

Finally, with pain in my fingers and sweat on my brow, the real test began. I flipped the answer packet over and opened the test booklet to page one. And, it had seemed my hours of practice tests had payed off. The answers slid right off my pencil; maybe there would be retribution for the AP exam’s horror!

A tap on the shoulder shattered my ecstasy. I gazed up to see my proctor staring right back down onto my half-completed test. My confusion slipped into despair as the words formed on her lips.

“Wrong page.”

Then the panic became real.

The test packet had three test pages, one for three possible tests to be taken that day. However, I was only taking the chemistry SAT that day and had thus far bubbled all my answers onto the sheet labeled as three, rather than one.

To silence my flustered sputtering, she softly instructed me to copy all of my answers on the correct page and erase all of the extra answers I had filled in afterward.

Miraculously, I managed to complete this task before her timer beeps ended the testing session. Despite such a careless mistake, all was well.

Or so I thought.

Weeks later, classmates boasted and despaired over their scores released online. My account mysteriously stated that I had “no test scores available,” but I decided to wait it out an additional week or so, as the College Board did say that some exams might require extra overview.

When I still obtained no results, worry caused me to take action by calling the College Board and inquiring as to why my scores were not released. The representative promised to get back to me in five to seven business days.

Business days can be easily translated into slow and painful torture. Don’t even get me started on weekends. I searched every corner of the SAT website for an explanation only to find no definitive results. On the sixth day, my mother silently handed me the most striking piece of mail I have yet to receive in my life.

The letter read as follows, “While scoring your answer sheet for one or more SAT Subject TestsTM taken on 6/7/2014, we discovered that you erased all of the responses for at least one of the tests. We consider this to be a request to cancel your scores.”

After a moment of pure, wide-eyed, slack-jawed shock, I ran to grab the telephone and punch in the College Board number. It took quite a few deep breaths beforehand, but I somehow managed to explain my situation to the representative, who, once again, would get back to me in five to seven business days.

The call I received did not bring much relief. It was explained that such a situation required a full inquiry with my school and with the organization. Now, instead of an extra week’s wait, I was looking at an extra couple of months, and no guarantee that the scores would ever come.

It wasn’t any better than it sounds; it was terrible. Take that original period of trepidation – then quadruple it. That’s how I felt for the next month. Eventually, the apprehension subsided into regularity in my state of being, but it still lingered like a rock sitting in my stomach.

With the final call and online post stating that the inquiry was resolved and revealing my ever-coveted score, a tremendous weight was lifted and replaced with the lighter emotions of relief and joy.

Despite the original foolish mistake (and of the stress that followed suit), the College Board staff members were really quite helpful. The problem was eventually resolved without me having to sit through another exam, not to mention, paying to retake the test.

If I had to take it again, at least I would have known to study not only isotopes and ions, but also all of the instructions, even bubble-filling techniques.

After this experience, who knows what this doofus could possibly do next?

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