The exam taker entered the testing center on low-burn anxiety: she could not possibly have studied any more than she had and expect to achieve better results, yet she knew there was plenty of material on which she could fail. Nothing more could be done for it now.
The proctor led her to a computer lab for her to take the test; the two of them were the sole occupants.
“This is your lucky day,” he said as he led her to a terminal and accessed the test for her. “The last group here broke out into a riot when the power went out.”
“Yep – with just you here, this’ll be nice and peaceful today.”
Says you, she thought. “Thank you,” she said as she sat at the desk.
The proctor sat at the desk next to her and spread out his gear. “Ear plugs?” he asked as he held a pair out to her.
“No thanks, it’s pretty quiet in here.”
“You sure? This thing is booked for three hours and I’m going to be watching TV the whole time.”
“...All right then, thank you.” She put on the ear plugs and blessed the near-silence: she could see that the proctor had started watching a live soccer game on his phone, and the crowd was not sedate.
Five minutes after the official start time and she was still taking the practice test so she would not mess up the real one. She always felt a sense of dread whenever she hit “Submit” on one of these things: it felt as if she had passed the point of no return and all mistakes were on her permanent record. The test proper appeared as she heard “GOOOOOOOAAAALLLL!!!!!” and “Yessssss! – Sorry.” She smiled an edgy smile at him: this was an inauspicious start, to say the least.
Question 1 of 200: When thingamabob is doohickey and flibbertigibbet is whatchamacallit, which whosits is the whatsits?
D. All of the above
Her mind was a complete blank. Everything she had studied for the past six months suddenly leaked out her ears and past the plugs; she searched her memory banks and received shrugs in response. As Panic began its ascent up her spine, she remember that she could skip ahead and answer that question later. Having to do this on the first question did not bode well, but was not necessarily a game changer.
Question 2: According to thingamabob….
Wait a minute. Sure, thingamabob had been covered in the study guide, but it really did not seem like it was that big a deal – how come it was in the first two questions? Skip ahead.
Question 3: When referring to thingamabob….
She had barely studied thingamabob: her man foci had been on flim-flam and hootenanny.
Question 4: According to thingamabob….
Those dastards. They know hardly anyone taking this test uses thingamabob in real life! This is a set-up! For failure!
“Is this where the civil service test is being held?”
A small crowd stood at the door, looking as lost as she felt.
“That’s down the hall,” the proctor said as he deftly muted his phone. “Second door on the right.”
“Could you show us?”
“I’m proctoring right now and can’t leave her alone or else this whole thing’s invalid.”
“But we’re lost.”
“Then go to the main office! Precious seconds are ticking away for this lady, and she’ll never get them back `cause you keep hanging around!”
I won’t? she thought. Can’t I get credit? It’s not as if I just took a bathroom break, and apparently these ear plugs are garbage when it comes down to it.
“Where’s the main office?”
“Turn around and follow the signs!”
“But – ”
“Just get out! Good luck on your test.” They left as one. “I am so sorry – that hardly ever happens, I swear,” the proctor said to her and held out his open water bottle. “Thirsty?”
“Hopefully that’ll be the last interruption,” he said as he turned the game back on. “Oh man, I missed the penalty kick,” he muttered.
Question 5: When accessing flim-flam, with whom does the buck stop?
Finally, one I can answer, she thought. The test started to flow easier at that point, and she reached Question 195 when the fire alarm went off.
“What the – hold on, let me call the office,” the proctor said while her ears rang through the garbage plugs. After a minute on the phone, he hung up and told her: “Good news is there’s no fire. Bad news is the system’s broken and they don’t know how long it’ll be going off until they fix it. Good thing we’ve got the ear plugs, right?”
He laughed to himself as he plugged ear buds into his phone. “Man, seems like everything’s going wrong today. Next thing you know, the power’ll go out like it did the last time and you’ll have to come back and take the test all over again, am I right?”
Shut up, just shut up! “Heh, heh, heh.”
“Yeah, that’d be bad.” The game resumed.
Question 195: According to thingamabob….
She finally finished all 200 questions to the soundtrack of high-pitched fire alarms, winging it on the unanswered ones, and had to submit her exam even though there was half an hour left or else she would never be done. Waiting in agony for the results, a survey popped up.
That’s how they get you, she thought. If you know you failed first, you’d never answer these things.
Question 1: Please rate your proctor 1-5, 5 being the highest.
Hmmmm…. The only thing preventing her from selecting “1” was that he had given her ear plugs. And he did chase away the other group, eventually. Too bad she could not select 1.5.
She finished the survey and hit “Submit” yet again. The message appeared on the screen: Sorry, you failed, better luck the next time you give us lots of money to take this exam again.
“Yes! We won!” The proctor turned to her. “My team won! I’m so happy! Are you done?”
“Yes, and I failed.”
“Oh. Man. Tough luck.”
“Luck had nothing to do with it, and you know it.”
“I think it’s in your best interest to help me challenge this score for a free retest, wouldn’t you say? Considering the very distracting environment I had?”
“Uh, yeah, but I can’t really – ”
“I think you can. Else the main office may also hear that ‘you’ won and how happy you were about that.”
“You know, I might be able to work something out.”
“You’re very helpful. I may actually rate you a 3 next time.”
Now she just needed to brush up on thingamabob and make sure she was assigned a different proctor; then all would be well for Exam – Take 2: The Grudge Match.