The Calculus Test

Mike DeLellis


Books and study notes cover the kitchen counter, accounting on

the left and economics on the right. My calculus text, solution

manual, photocopied handouts and copies of old tests, lie scattered

on one end of the kitchen table. Solutions to assigned homework

sprawl on the other end and fill two kitchen chairs.

I have worked on calculus for three days. The clock on the stove

shows two-thirty. The test starts at four.

I write out an answer to a problem. Mom walks in and stands

between the counter and the table. She shakes her head and frowns.

“Mike, look what you’ve done to my kitchen. Can’t you be a little

neater? Can’t you?”

“Don’t worry about the kitchen, Mom. I’ll clean up when I finish

studying. I have my calculus test today and my accounting final on

Monday. After that, I’ll clean the kitchen.”

Mom picks up a pile of accounting notes. “Can’t I throw some of

these out? If someone comes, I’ll be embarrassed.”

“No, Mom. I can’t throw anything out. I’ve been writing tests all

week. Another four days won’t make a difference.”

Mom lays the notes back on the counter. “Alright, you better get

ready for school.”

“Okay, just one more question. I should do all right. I understand

all of the homework the professor assigned and he said half

the test will come straight from the homework. I’ve studied hard.”

I finish the question, then get up, wash my face, comb my hair,

and dress. I put on what I wear for every test—black shoes, black

socks, black jeans, a black T-shirt, a blue jean shirt and my blue U of T

hat. I grab my black school bag and put on my coat.

“Mom, I’m going! Be home around five-thirty.”

Blowing snow makes driving difficult. I don’t care. I feel good. I

should do well on this test. I know the material.

I arrive at UTM’s Kaneff Centre at 3:45. Teaching assistants let

students into the lecture hall. I walk in, put down my things, take

my pencil case and student card out of my bag, and look for a seat. A

friend, Fabio, sits near the back. He rests his head on his arms, eyes

closed. I sit down next to him.

“Fabio, wake up!”

He lifts his head. He looks pale with dark bags under his eyes.

“Fabio, are you feeling all right?”

“Yeah, I’m just tired. I didn’t start doin’ the homework until yesterday.”

“How much sleep did you get?”

“Sleep? What’s sleep? Do people still do that?”

“Fabio, are you crazy? How could you not sleep at all?”

“Desperation, Mike. Desperation can make you do things you

wouldn’t believe were possible. Trust me, I know.”

“Are you ready for this test?”

“I think so. How about you?”

“I think I’ll do okay.”

I look at my watch—4:08.

“Alright, put everything away,” says Mrs. Geddes, who taught

me everything I know about calculus but didn’t teach this course.

“I’m going to hand out the tests now.”

She gives a stack of test papers to three supervisors who hand

them out. “Did anyone not receive a test paper?” asks Mrs. Geddes.

“Alright then, the test is out of fifty marks. It is now 4:12. You have

fifty minutes to write. You may begin.”

I turn over the paper. I read the first question and know the

answer from the homework.

4:22. I complete the first question. I feel confident I got the full

five marks. I smile.

4:30. I know the answer to the second question from studying. I

finish the second question. I want to finish the test. I want to get a

perfect score. I glance at Fabio. Scratch-outs fill his paper. I feel bad

for him.

4:32. The third question is worth forty out of the fifty marks.

Forty marks! The prof made one question worth eighty percent of

the test. I read the question. I do not understand it. It has six parts:

A, B, C, D, E and F. I don’t know the answer to any of them.

4:38. I read the question again. My heart beats fast. Sweat forms

on my upper lip. I do not know what to do.

4:42. I look around the room. Students stare at the walls, the

ceiling and the floor.

4:45. Fabio calls a teaching assistant, hands in his paper, and

walks out.

4:48. About a quarter of the class has handed in their papers and


4:50. I get an idea about parts A, B and C. I write. I write and


5:00. I finish the answers to A, B and C. I don’t know if they’re

right. I have five minutes left to answer the last three parts. I scrawl

formulas on the test paper.

5:05. “Everybody stop!” Mrs. Geddes says. “Please stay seated

until we collect and count your papers.”

The teaching assistants collect the papers. I walk down the steps,

pick up my bag and coat, and head to the cafeteria. I see students

from the calculus test. One sits on a chair, hands on her face, and

cries. Her tears spread mascara. A friend offers a tissue. She wipes

her eyes and runs to the washroom. Another student stands at one

of the pay phones against the wall and yells into the phone, “I didn’t

know what the fuck I was doing! The fuckin’ prof assigned forty

fuckin’ marks out of fifty for one fuckin’ question. Can you fuckin’

believe that?”

My friends sit in chairs just across from the Harvey’s.

“Mike, what took you so long?” Bruno says. “We’ve been here for

twenty-five minutes.”

“That was the hardest test I’ve ever written,” I say. “I can’t believe

it. I studied hard, really hard, and now I’m just hoping to pass.”

“Mike, none of us answered the third question,” Bruno says. “Do

you know what that means? That means the most we can get is

twenty percent.”

“Fabio, didn’t the prof tell our class that half the test would come

from the homework?”

“Mike, you don’t get it. They’re out to hurt us. Two out of the

three questions came from the homework, but they count for only

twenty percent of the mark. The prof tricked us.”

“How do you think you did?” I ask Fabio.

He shakes his head. “I didn’t get past the first question, Mike. I

didn’t get past the first question.”