Put To The Test: A College Tale

white baby mouse

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Well, Grubstetter figured he was going to get an easy A in Psych 1, after all, he’s good with people, didn’t he get his college roommate to buy him a keg of beer based on the premise that it would be worth it just to see him get drunk and f’d up? On the other hand, it turned out that the professor didn’t talk once about how to get free drinks from your roommate in his bogus Psych 1 class, in fact they didn’t talk about people or alcohol at all, all they talked about were wily brown rats and albino mice and stimulus-response reaction times. At least that’s what they talked about the last time he was in class, which was also the first time he was in class, when they gave out the syllabus.  He needed to pass the course, because frankly he hadn’t passed many others, and if he didn’t pass this one, he would be kicked out, seeing that he was already on probation for last semester’s stunning non-production.

The term paper was worth 50% and the final exam was worth 50% of the final course  grade. Grubstetter’s calculation was that though he hadn’t gotten it back yet, the term paper was probably an A—at least that’s what it received according to the website he got it from—so really what he had to turn his attention to now was the final. That would have made sense had not the final been so cruelly scheduled for 2:20 pm, two solid hours before Grubstetter’s usual wake up time. His roommate, Porter, who had returned to the room at 2pm from his bio class to grab the other half of the pulled pork sub sandwich which he had left in the room’s mini-refrigerator, didn’t think much at first of seeing Grubstetter passed out on the couch. It was not that unusual a sight at this time of the afternoon. But Grubstetter let out a groan, and Porter suddenly remembered that sometime before Grubstetter had passed out last night, Grubstetter had asked Porter to get him up in time for the big exam.

So Porter slapped Grubstetter’s face a few times and Grubstetter started yelling, but soon calmed down after it was explained to him that he had to get himself to the exam room, and pronto. Grubstetter’s face went ashen, for as he came to, he realized that his study plan of reading the entire Psych text that night—okay, the first and last sentences of each chapter’s final summary paragraph in the Psych text—had been thwarted, due to his inability to read while passed out. It was a genetic fault, he explained.

But Porter ignored his roommate’s excuses, and after rolling Grubstetter out from under the pile of dirt laundry on the couch, he bundled him up in the reclaimed old parka under the broken television set cart that was used as a bed for his girlfriend’s mean tabby cat.  Like a stage manager pushing a reluctant actor onto the stage, Porter gathered all his strength, and pushed his friend out the door.

Grubstetter was immediately stung by the cold of the Maine winter on his now even pinker cheeks, and the glare of the sun on the iced over snow blinded him for a few moments. He fished around in the deep pockets of his coat and pushing aside several Slim Jim wrappers and an invasion of sunflower seed shells, he dug out a pair of pink sparkle-covered sunglasses from some forgotten costume party. “Screw fashion,” he thought to himself as he put them on and got himself re-oriented to the campus quad, the large Clock sounding the quarter hour. He stumbled up the steps of the Founders Hall and marched himself through the corridors to the lecture auditorium, six hundred wooden seats looking down upon an old lab table, with a large projector screen in back of it. Grubstetter stood tentatively in the aisle, looking for a smart student to sit next to, but realized that he knew no one in the class because he had never been to it before. He cursed his rotten circumstances, and took his chances with a student who looked like he might have had intimate knowledge of rats. There was no empty seat exactly near him, but Grubstetter calculated that if he sat three rows behind him, and three seats to the left of him, due to the staggered arrangement of seats in each row, and the greater height of his back row, he would have a perfect diagonal view of the rat lover’s paper.

The teaching assistant entered the room with a big pile of official looking blank exam booklets. “Oh, no,” thought Grubstetter, “It’s going to be an essay exam.” What good would his superior vantage point mean now? Almost nothing. With a multiple choice test and a bird’s eye view you could delineate the pattern of darkened answer circles from afar, like an astronaut’s view of the Great Wall of China, but with an essay test you had nothing. “Gimme something to work with here,” he muttered to himself. He braced himself for the essay question they were about to receive, summoning up all his considerable powers of bullshittery to the fore, but he was still nervous.

“No multiple choice? No multiple choice? What kind of fresh hell is this place anyway?” he called out. Several students turned around in their seats and shushed him, like patrons of an art movie theater reprimanding a particularly recalcitrant viewer during an Ingmar Bergman film festival. But it was clear to Grubstetter what must have happened. The professor, who was known to give multiple choice tests with a hundred-plus questions, had finally figured out that the answers to the test had been in circulation long before the test date. But the guy was lazy. He didn’t want to make up a new hundred-question test. It was easier to make up an essay question on the spot, and have some grad student mark it, than to put in the sweat necessary to re-make a new multiple choice test. “The inconsiderate indolent bastard,” he said to the woman next to him who ignored him.

The teaching assistant at the front of the auditorium, who for some reason couldn’t get the microphone to work, announced in his loudest voice that the test was about to begin, the essay question would be projected on the screen, and that the students would all have one hour and twenty minutes to complete their essay in the exam books. “The use of computers and other aids are not allowed, no pencil, and be sure to sign the no cheating declaration on the back cover. Do all your scrap work and planning in the book, and when you need a new book, raise your hand and I’ll bring you a new one. Okay, I’ll put up the question on the screen and then you may open up your exam booklets and begin writing.”

There was a sharp intake of air in anticipation from the crowd of students and then after some focusing adjustments, the question appeared on the screen. “Holy Mother of Pringles,” Grubstetter exclaimed. “He’s even lazier than I thought.” Grubstetter again read to himself the essay question which was printed in block capital letters:


“What the—?” The devious bastard. It took him no thought at all to come up with that. Grubstetter started to look up and down his row and along the diagonals in desperation. Students were looking up, biting the ends of their pens, and then suddenly, as if diving for sunken treasure, swooping their heads back down onto the pages, furiously writing, filling up pages. But Grubstetter could only catch snatches of paragraphs amid the bobbing heads and writing implements. Describe the so-and so effect along with its implications and uses wrote the guy to his right. Given the current state of the scienific research regarding so and so, and so and so, which do you think is a more effective approach and why? wrote the woman to his left. Name three methods of behavioral psychology and compare and contrast among them as to their validity and reliability wrote the rat boy three rows ahead of him. Grubstetter shook his head in despair. These intermittent flashes of ideas were not enough to get him started on an essay of his own. He wasn’t familiar with anything enough to even bullshit about it.

And then, all of a sudden, he sat back in his wooden chair, relaxed full of cheer and merriment, and gave a great hardy guffaw, like a jolly king upon his throne. The answer had, miraculously, come to him. Grubstetter wrote like a demon for a few moments, then turned in his exam booklet to the bewildered teaching assistant, and triumphantly marched out the door, a forgotten Slim Jim now victoriously clenched between his teeth.

Yes, the Gods had looked favorably on Grubstetter that memorable day, as he recounted a week later to Porter.  The proof of the passing grade was right there in the professor’s reluctant red ink on Grubstetter’s returned final exam booklet. A big scarlet “A.”

“So how the fuck did you answer the question?” demanded Porter. “You knew nothing, nothing at all. You never went to class, never cracked a book. How the fuck could he have passed you?”

Grubstetter, who by this time was about to pass out again, tossed the exam booklet to Porter. “Read it, kiddo, read it.” And with that, he fell off the couch and slept the sleep of the angels.

Porter opened the booklet and saw:


So you think you’re smart writing an exam question like that? Okay. Here are my answers to the two parts of the essay.



Have a great summer, prof!

Porter closed the exam booklet, struck dumb. For surely, he thought to himself, as he looked at the crumpled sweetly smiling body on the floor next to him and slowly re-read his friend’s exam paper, he was in the presence of genius.




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