Have they learned anything? Do they have the right definitions? Have they studied the right things? Only the exam decides what the right things and wrong things are. Funny, you can tell them and tell them and tell them the right things, and they’ll still study the wrong things. Oh, the stress. The bent backs, the crooked elbows, the hanging hair. All the clothes are different: loose, soft fabrics. No makeup. Unshaven. No one to impress today except the exam. They are not meaningless, these exams. They have scale, consequence. Questions they know the answer to, but will change at the last minute to the wrong one. They leave a mark. No one looks at the proctor. They assume he has the answers but they don’t care because he won’t give them. They are right. They know where to focus their attention. This is not even his class, not his students. When they finish, because they always finish, they come to the front, one by one, at a loss of what to do with the papers. He nudges a stapler toward them. The sound of the stapler is the most satisfying thing that will happen to them all day. It’s really what the test was all about.

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