Taking a Calculus Exam

Posted by mouthyb | Posted in , | Posted on 12:41 PM


I got up this morning at 5-ish am to make a 7:30 am final for Calculus. None of the local campus coffee shops were open, and the classroom, which had been moved, was in an intermediate section between fine arts and the auditorium, built almost 100 years ago. The hallways were dim, slanting and non-sequentially numbered.

As I stumbled up several flights of stairs to get to the classroom, the light had just started to be bright enough to be more blue than gray. In an hallway lit by a set of glass doors at the end, 80 students sprawled against the walls; the classroom was locked. Many of us frantically re-read our notes, muttering equations and quiet fears about failing. The professor administering the tests had to call the campus police to get into the room, his smoker's voice rasping into the telephone: "I need to get into this room. My students are waiting."

In the auditorium, half the lights were burned out. The room was old, seats tiny and so close together that we rubbed elbows as we waited in the dim, yellowed light. The professor, out of desperation, turned on the projector for the extra light. He handed the tests out, and like racing dogs through the gate, we were off.

Define an indefinite integral. Arc length. Resistance across a battery and connected resistors. Rotational solids. Tangents. Linear estimates. Rates of change.

Pencils scratching, elbows bobbing against mine. In my dream, the night before, I had forgotten the formula for linearization. I paused before the problem, but the formula rose quickly to mind. I dove back into the problem.

When I reached page 10 of the exam, I turned the test over and over, looking for the next page, and the next, another set to dive into. There was nothing there. I took a breath, then another, my lungs loud in my ears. I jabbed my hand with the pencil, fumbling to get it back into my bag, then stood with shaky legs. The chair creaked as I stood, startling me. I stumbled forward, blinking, and put my test on the short pile at the front of the auditorium.

I turned to him. "Thank you."

"Sure," he rasped. "No problem."

I walked back to the lab in my department, two hours after the exam started. Sitting in the lab, I stared at the far wall. The last two hours fell into some other space, racing through some other world chasing a formula, number, the sound of my breath, time passing in the expansion of my chest and the breath huffing out.

Climb. Write. Solve.

Comments (1)

I haven't got anything much to say on this, other than the fourth paragraph made my eyes gloss over (I guess I now can stop being sad about taking an Engineering Technology diploma instead of pursuing a fancy University Degree like I wanted). Just wanna test the stylesheet change. :P

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