It’s a long walk down that stairway…

Things used to be simpler.

Elementary school. When we used to agonize over awkwardly duplicated, handwritten quizzes. Copied in hazy purple ink. Bleached white by the sunlight.

Of course the tests weren’t as difficult back then. Once the teacher left room for our lopsided, unevenly spaced cursive, there wasn’t much space for questions.

By middle school the tests were getting longer, though. And as agonizing as they were, you could take some consolation in the fact that they’d take a while to get back to you. Hand grading tests took time.

The sting of a poor test was mostly gone by the time you finally got your score.

My eighth grade teachers were hooked on the Scantron machine. It didn’t make mistakes (most of the time). And it made their lives much easier. But Scantron was a mixed blessing… Multiple choice tests were easier than short-answer, but some teachers felt a need to compensate. Just because the sheet has room for a hundred and fifty questions doesn’t mean they all need to be used…

The other thing about the Scantron was the turnaround time. Much improved, depending on your point of view. You didn’t have nearly the wait. Which means the sting of a bad test was far fresher in your mind when the scores rolled around the next day.

The Scantron trend continued through high school, although it was a bit less common in most of the classes I took. You see, they were supposed to prepare me for college. AP english, history and calc. College prep literature and physics and whatever else they wanted to tack the title on. We couldn’t have any of this bubble-sheet business in those classes, now could we?

Yet here I am, in college.

After all that preparation, filling out bubble sheets at the testing center.

Some time along the way I’ve graduated from the half-sheet (double sided) middle school standard to a grueling, full-sheet custom printed pink testing center form. The one with the illustration of a pencil at the top. In case you forget that you’re supposed to use only a number two pencil on a machine graded exam… But at least it has round bubbles instead of those lame rectangle ones that I could never get the hang of filling in…

Which brings me back to my original point.

It’s a long, long walk down that stairway.

Kinda makes me think of judgement day. Nobody’s really ready for it.

Of course you’ve got the ones that think they’ve got it made. Trotting down the stairs, a big grin on their face. Some of them are in for a rude awakening at the bottom of the stairs. Then you’ve got the people that are just happy to be finished. I remember one day when I walked out at the same time as one rather depressed looking kid. It seems he had just spent six hours on an organic chemistry test. He scored in the low seventies…

But really, nobody’s ready for the moment of truth. Then you step through the door, your eyes are drawn to the monitor. Whether you want to look or not.

What is that, thirty seconds? maybe a minute. One full minute between handing in your pink sheet and your standard-issue calculator, and the big screen at the bottom of the stairs. And what does it say today?

Aww. Crap.