Year one first semester.

I am walking back to my room in the hostel with a glum look on my face. I just finished an exam and I am certain I killed it, but I am not happy. Somebody is not happy with me. It is usually difficult for me to be at peace when there is someone somewhere who thinks I shouldn’t. As I walk I recall what was said at the exam venue after the exam.

“You are heartless, you this guy”

“This is the third time that guy is writing this course and you can’t even stay and help him. Tufiakwa”

Those words haunt me now and I wonder how what had felt so right when I was doing it is now the source of my guilt. I think back to the moment I rose from my seat to go and submit my answer sheet.

I remember the hands pulling me, the voice telling me to wait, that he was yet to attempt all the questions and I remember the relief I felt as I handed the sheet to the invigilator who was collecting the answer sheets, grateful that I was out of that place, out of the reach of those would get me to break the rules without any regard for the consequences.

As a secondary school student, I’d had the reputation of having the most sealed lips in the exam hall. I asked no one for answers to the questions I had to face and in turn, I told no one the answers to the questions they had to face. It didn’t make me popular, but I still lived by it because of my upbringing.

There are rules which are meant to guide the conduct of students and examiners in every examination. I do my best to abide by them. Besides these rules, something else influences my behavior in the exam hall. It is the fact that most examinations are in a way competition for places! I never forget to remind those who confront me of this fact.

They usually come, after examinations with screwed up faces to complain about how I snubbed them in the hall when they only needed me to remind them of just a little thing they had forgotten-story for the gods! Have I forgotten the case of the guy who called me to ask for help in remembering a little something he had forgotten and ended up getting me to dictate the answer to a whole question for him?

Funny enough he still tried to get me to write the answer for him in a sheet of paper he produced from the air after I wasted close to three minutes of my precious time reading out answers to him.

Yet even though I have these things in mind I still feel guilty every time I ignore someone in the exam hall. In the secondary, doing that was a sin, but a forgivable one. Here in the university, it is a mortal sin for which there is no reprieve. You can get killed for it. People will always tell you that no one is dragging your first with you. In fact, there is no first position to even fight for. If anybody asks for your help it is only to ensure that they do not fail, or that they can at least make a B or even join you in making the As they think your results are littered with.

But no one ever talks about what happens when you are caught talking in the exam hall. No one considers the penalties that an invigilator is at liberty to inflict on you. It is always surprising how, at that moment when the invigilator seizes your scripts and points at the door with a terrifying frown on his face, all those who were clamoring for your attention, the very people who got you into trouble in the first place, will all face their work with every seriousness. I bet they will even deny knowing you then if the invigilator asks them about you. Their denial will be so splendidly done that even Peter will feel better about himself and that cock crowing incident.

Later, outside the hall when they see you mourning they will gather to comfort you. The talk then will be about how you should have been sharper, smarter in answering their questions; how people do it all the time without getting caught by an invigilator. Then they will ask if you can identify the particular person who took your paper.

If you answer in the affirmative they will advise you to go and meet him and offer him something tangible. Something tangible from which pocket? From pockets that have not been able to lift you above your dependency on cassava flakes and h20 for your sustenance?

That is where it will all end, and you, my dear, will be faced with the unpleasant prospect of seeing an F in your result. There is the story of a fine young man in my school who was caught by a particularly strict lecturer known for his meanness. This young man was in the act of replying to the request of a particularly pretty lady who was in need of the answer to a particularly tough question-talk about a classical damsel in distress situation.

Well, the young man’s attempt to be her knight in shining armor was crushed when the lecturer grabbed his answer sheet and tore it to pieces before marching him out of the hall. Thus he ended up being the Jack to the lady’s Rose.

One thing that I always wonder about is what keeps people from preparing for exams, to the extent that they enter the hall, totally bereft of even a single answer to the questions they are to face. At once the first thing that will come to mind is work. Of course, work will negatively affect the performance of a student in an exam but it shouldn’t be a barrier to making efforts to at least make preparations for exams. I know two or three students who work and yet breeze through their exams when they have to write it.

Today I no longer look at people’s faces. I have a me-first policy for every exam. If you want my help, meet me before the exam, let us go over your problem and find a solution for it. In the exam hall, I don’t know you. This has made me a number of enemies. Sometimes the pressure becomes so much that I cave in, to keep them from getting too angry, other times I simply do not care.

What’s your take on ‘helping’ people in the exam hall? Bare your mind here, let’s know your views.

Let down

Written by Samuel Ifeanyi Gaius


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