The Exam Room


The long, and seemingly endless line of students had begun to move. We were led into a basketball courtroom, a high ceiling room with broad dimensions and ample space. At the moment, it was neatly packed with identical sets of desks and chairs lined and distanced with such accuracy that each successive chair held the same length apart from its paired desk. After every seven seats, stood an identical clock towering over the heads below and in front of the room was a big projector screen. It read in bold— 60:00—the time we had for the first section of the exam.

There was a woman there, one arm raised and rigidly stuck in its horizontal position while the other motioned the stream of children to move in their respective lanes. After a row was filled, she would move a few steps back, and divert the route to the next row. We obediently followed, and it was understood that we were not to make any noise. So no one spoke and those who did were shushed. The only sounds in that room, as it gradually filled, were those of hurried and strained footsteps. I eventually arrived at my desk and slithered into my seat quickly as an invigilator eyed me. Looking around, I estimated a hundred students and maybe ten invigilators who would move through the rows at a slow and steady pace, their eyes scanning their environment from left to right, looking for… I am not sure what exactly. A woman’s voice echoed through the room. It came from the front where she sat at her desk, a mike and a single sheet of paper put in front of her. She began narrating the list of instructions dryly– the do’s and don’ts and what to expect in the coming 4 hours. A couple of times, she would reiterate a sentence, and I wondered if printed on the paper was a command: “Read twice”.

Twenty minutes till the exam begins, I noted. On my left, a girl slouched back in her chair, arms tied across chest and her eyes peering ahead. I sensed that she was waiting—maybe for the coming hours to pass. On my right, sat a boy, who was in the midst of carefully and meticulously arranging his things on the desk. He took out his four sharpened pencils and after a thought, placed two in the left corner. Then he took out an eraser and a sharper, both of which he wouldn’t use. In the right corner, he positioned his calculator, which he would promptly put away when the echoing voice would command.

Fifteen minutes were left and now everyone was attentive. We filled bubbles, scribbled our names, our addresses and other such details on the back page of our test book. Even more—two pages worth—information was required for the answer sheet. I ensured that my writing was clear, the bubbles were fully marked and that I followed every word the instructor spoke.

The last minute was now ticking away. I felt morbid as I realized where I was and what I was doing. My heart was pounding and I heard the voice pronounce “you may begin”. I turned the page over to section one.

Written by Foqia Shahid | Cover Photo from the Atlantic


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