At school, we are gearing up for exam week. Exams start next Friday – so everyone is busy finishing up courses, handing in final projects and starting to study for exams. So as I was heading to sleepy-land last night, I started to remember my exams at McMaster.
I attended McMaster for my undergrad. Out of the three schools that I’ve attended, it was by far the best in so many ways. Actually at this moment as I write this, I have another tab open with my online course for my masters and I’m saying many bad words about the organization of the course already. McMaster had great programs, great professors and a great vibe about it. We also had some great sports teams too, including the Mac Football team!
However, like all university programs – we had exams. I attended a non-semestered high school and was focused on the arts/English curriculum, so I didn’t have to write many exams in my day. My high school teachers never really told us how to study, so when I arrived at McMaster I didn’t know what to do when it came down to studying the course material for a huge exam. Not going to lie – I failed a number of tests and a few exams my first year. I remember one exam, the instructor just simply made the exam too long for a 2 hour exam – when they said “pencils down”, me and a large portion of the class suddenly looked up from our papers and had OH SHIT written on our faces. It wasn’t all bad – a few days later I wrote my music exam and was finished in 15 minutes.
Exams at Mac were primarily written in the gyms at the (now old) athletic centre. The main gym (called PE #1 on the exam schedule) was the size of three regular high school gyms. The exam schedulers could fit many classes in PE 1 at the same time. In order to attend an exam – you have to wait in a giant line about 30 minutes before the exam was to start. As you waited in line – you memorized your last note, stared anxiously at your friends, and made sure you had your Student ID, and pens/pencils. You were then walked into the gym and told to leave everything at the walls of the building. Back then many people didn’t have cell phones or even laptops – so usually your bag just had a bus pass and keys in it. You then had to find your class which would be assigned in rows. Usually the classes would vary row by row, meaning one class would be in one row, and the next row would be another class. You sat your butt down in the world’s most uncomfortable folding chair and waited. Once you were permitted to open your exam package, you could hear the noise of 1000+ people opening an exam at once which was super loud.
During the exam, it was somewhat quiet. You could hear pen and pencils scratching, the occasional cough, and the rattle of someone moving their leg nervously. Even though every one was trying to be quiet – it was still very distracting. The worst though was when one of the invigilators had to make an announcement to a class. They would use a microphone and because everyone was concentrating – when they said “sorry for the interruption” we would all jump. The one exam they interrupted us so many times – way to break my focus!
After the “double cohort” year (when Ontario moved to a 4 year high school system and two class years graduated at once) arrived in 2003, alternative exam locations had to be made as we could not just fit in the gym. We wrote in convocation hall, this temporary building that looked like an airplane hanger and any spare classroom they could find. I still wrote many of my exams in the gyms.
As the years went by, I became better at writing exams and ‘aced’ quite a few. With a few professors that I had for a number of classes, I was able to correctly predict what would be on the exam. One of them laughed when I said I had a hunch what was one the exam and said “I’m not that predictable” – yeah, he was 🙂 or maybe I was finally smart!
A year and a half after I graduated, I was on the other side of things. My first job after university was an instructional assistant for the geography department. Because of the large size of the class, and that the class was split up into numerous locations, so the professor and I split up and tackled all the questions. I felt so important that I had a “instructor” badge on and I could answer questions. I never feel that important supervising high school exams 🙂
Did you like/hate exams when you were in school?
Did you have to write in a loud and noisy environment?
Where did you go to school?