Wednesday, January 21, 2004

Exam Time

It is that time of year, exam time. I remember this time of my student career from time to time. I remember the hard work and the satisfaction of writing a good essay. I also remember the terror of math and chemistry exams, too. They were a struggle for me, and instead of facing them and making the requisite effort, I employed my favorite strategy of all time...Avoidance. For that choice, I still have nightmares about university exams, even though that time is 20 years in my past.

Last Saturday and Sunday were the "Center Exams," exams that candidates for universities take. Not even many Japanese people know what they're for. They know they exist, but unless they have been there themselves or have had children taking them, not very many people know what they're for. They are mostly used for entrance to public universities. They are exams that determine whether students are eligible to embark on the next stage of entrance to their school of choice. Universities determine point requirements, and if the students meet or exceed the points standard, they are eligible to take the universities' home-made entrance exam.

There are several different exams in the Center Exam, each one given at a specific time all over the country. The sections include English and other foreign languages, a couple of different Math exams, Science including Chemistry, General Science, and Biology. There is a Japanese exam, Geography, and Social Studies tests. Some students take one or two of these, others take most, and a few probably take all of them. The Japanese and English tests last 80 minutes, and all of the others last for one hour.

Many of my colleagues and I were proctors at the exam. Our jobs were to read the preliminary instructions to the test takers before each exam began, to distribute the test booklets and computer answer sheets, and to collect and organize the answer sheets after the test was over. During the test, we were there to take care of students who began to feel bad, to prevent cheating (of which there is very very little), and to take care of any administrative work that needed to be done.

As I watched the students, I wondered many things. How many of them were proud of their work, and how many were frightened or worried? Who were they there for, their parents, their teachers, themselves? What kinds of dreams they had and if they would be able to pursue them. And as they were putting on their coats and walking out of the exam room, I wondered if they were happy with themselves, or would they have nightmares 20 years hence.

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