Willie and I proctored a test Saturday morning.
Have you proctored? Oh, my dear, you simply must.
Actually, it’s a rather dull affair, one involving sitting in a large room with a large number of people. They’re taking a test, you’re reading a book, and the four hours positively fly by.
I’ve been proctoring certification testing for nurses and other healthcare professionals for well over 10 years now; and I would say that 98% of the people taking these tests are mature, intelligent human beings. These are people who have studied, who follow directions, who stand a good chance of passing the test and gaining a certification of expertise in, say, nephrology, dermatology, or sexual assault victims.
And then there’s the other 2%.
There’s someone like Melba.
Melba’s test was for certification in hemodialysis. It takes three hours; and at the three-hour mark, Willie approached her.
Melba (not her real name) did not show outward signs of idiocy until “time” had been called.
“I’ll have to take your test booklet,” he said.
But could she keep the answer sheet? she wanted to know. She had filled in the part asking for her name and other identifiers – but had not blackened in the little circles that corresponded with those letters or numbers. Could she have time to do that?
Sure, sure. What do we care? The test is over, we have the booklet, and we’ll be here for another hour while one last woman, who had four hours rather than three due to its being a different certification, finishes up.
For 20 minutes we watched Melba chew the end of her pencil and stare at her answer sheet. Willie and I raised our eyebrows at each other. How tough could it be to blacken in your circles?
You remember those test answer sheets, don’t you? Spelling out “P-E-A-R-L” and then blackening in the circles underneath, the little circle with the “P” in it, then the little circle with the “E” in it…
When she finally brought her answer sheet to the front of the room, the problem was clear: the front page of the answer sheet – name, address, identifying numbers – was a smudged lead-pencil mess, every available circle blackened.
The back side of the sheet was completely untouched.
She had never noticed that there was a back page. She had never flipped it over and of course had run out of answer space.
So rather than raise her hand and ask?
She had, somehow, determined that she would just keep “answering” questions, blackening in the circles with no regard to the number of the question.
Almost every single available circle on the front side of the answer sheet had been filled in.
From my table at the front of the room, I could do nothing but stare as she began to make excuses: She had almost been in an accident on the way to the test site (almost four hours earlier). She had been confused. Could she take it again? When could she take it again? Could she take it again right now?
What? There were almost 60 people in this room over three hours ago. They were all but two gone now, and she wants to re-take the test?
The woman is talking, loudly. The sole test taker in the room looks up, panicked.
“Ma’am,” I whisper. “There’s a test taker still working. Please lower your voice.”
“Oh, yes,” she says and then continues to talk. She didn’t know there was a back side of the answer sheet. She did the best she could. Could she re-take it? Was there another test coming? Could she retake it now?
I reminded her several times that there was a woman still taking the test, to keep her voice down, that we were only here to give the test and could not make decisions about the test itself, that I didn’t know when the next one was and that no, she couldn’t retake it right now.
“But I didn’t know. I was confused.”
“Ma’am,” I whispered. “We just give the test. I can’t help you. Time’s up.”
Melba shut her mouth abruptly and turned and walked out.
Willie and I just shook our heads.
Hours later, I’m still confused and have many questions. How could she pay for a test, listen to the 15 minutes’ worth of instruction at the start, and not turn the answer sheet over? How did she think her answer sheet was going to be scored?
And perhaps the most important question: where does she work and who is supervising her?
11 hours ago