Wednesday, 30 June 2010

A Test Of Confidence

"I did not get ninety-nine percent," the Nigerian insisted.

"You did, though -- see? This is an excellent result, the highest we've had all term."

"No. Please check it again and I think you'll find that there has been an error."

One thing I've learned from watching people take tests is that I can never distinguish who knows their stuff from who doesn't. People who look calm and thoughtful can turn in sheets of utter rubbish. People who look harried and puzzled can amaze me by garnering top scores. Observing the eight men in front of me, I had no idea knowing who could do what, and this time was no exception. The Turkish boy with the intelligent-looking face scored barely 38% and thought that the noun form of 'receive' was 'Reconnist'. The nervous Kazakh who frowned as he wrote and chewed his pencil down to a stub got 85% of the questions he answered correct. The bored-looking Nigerian in the back got 99%.

I know that tests don't necessarily demonstrate true intelligence, but as someone who has suffered her way through her share of exams, I can't help admiring people who take them with sangfroid and nonchalance -- like this Nigerian who had scored the unprecedented 99%.

And yet he was far from pleased with his result.

"We have checked it!" the supervisor insisted. "Two people mark all the exams to eliminate any possibility of error."

"Check it again."

We did. It was still 99%.

The Nigerian was not impressed. "Then go over your answer sheet. There must be an error somewhere."

Eyes were rolled behind his back, but the coordinators checked the answer sheet: the African's confidence was compelling.

To make a long story short, there was an error on the answer key. The Nigerian's 99% should have been 100%. He did not smile when he received this news from the embarrassed, apologetic supervisor. "Thank you," he said with considerable noblesse oblige.

As it happened, I never saw him again. He passed our test, but I'm not sure we passed his.

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15 comments:

Robert the Skeptic said...

Similar to your story about Mr. Yanagigawa. It does make you wonder if some of these students are really testing themselves and you are merely an means to their end. Interesting.

Charles Gramlich said...

Now that's impressive. You don't meet many students like that.

Vijaya said...

There's not much difference between a 99% and 100% but it's the principle that matters. He knew he'd done a perfect job ... but I wonder why it mattered to him that others knew.

Alex Case said...

Great story. Not sure what the moral is, but it seems like a story where there should be one

Blythe said...

I second Vijaya's comment. What is the context for his confidence and persistence? I'll never know...

kara said...

i probably would've failed that test. isn't the noun form of a 'reception' a 'reception'?

Carole said...

Great Story.

When my son was in Calculus in high school, he came across a problem that the teacher marked wrong. He was certain he was right, but she wouldn't hear of it. However a 4.0 GPA student concurred with my son when he got it wrong on his test. The teacher was willing to listen to that boy and found that the answer key was wrong. When my son asked the teacher why she would listen to Eric instead of him she replied, "You are not smart enough to know when an answer is right or wrong."

Ny son is one of the quietest people you will every meet. Two days later I went in his room and every wall was covered with page after page of page number 83 out of the calculus book. He had taken a razor blade to school and removed every one of the offensive pages to seek revenge.

Travis Erwin said...

I've always been a good test taker but I'd never have the confidence to press that hard.

Robin said...

Wow. I thought he was being super honest and was admitting to a lower score! This shows what a moron I am. When I was 9, I played softball. I hit a grounder and slid into home. The ref said, "Safe!", and I turned to the ref and told him, "I'm pretty sure she caught the ball before I touched the base." He looked puzzled, and said, "OK - out!" My dad stopped coming to my games.

Nora MacFarlane said...

Wow. What Vijaya said... I wonder too.

Mary Witzl said...

Robert -- I was going to post this story with Mr Y's story, but decided to make them into two for brevity's sake. These two men had some things in common. First, there was their incredible confidence, then there was the fact that no one recognized them as the native English speakers they almost certainly were.

Charles -- We don't, do we? He probably resented the fact he had to take the placement exam in the first place -- and I can hardly blame him, considering.

Vijaya -- The principle would have mattered to me too because I have a proud (and stubborn) nature. People here tend to think of Nigerians as non-native speakers of English when in fact most of them learn English when they are infants. I'm betting that got this guy's goat -- to the point where he had to take issue with someone marking him down a tiny but vital point. It would have infuriated me too.

Alex -- Thank you for visiting and commenting.

There's really no moral here, but I'd give a lot to have some of that Nigerian's confidence.

Blythe -- I'll never know either. We get some students who absolutely fascinate me and whose life stories I'd give a lot to know. They are usually the ones I only get to know briefly.

Kara -- I screwed up there. It was the noun form of 'receive' the students were supposed to come up with. Sigh...

Carole -- A friend of mine had a similar story to your son's. He ended up sending his former high school math teacher (a man he loathed, with reason) a calculus exam he'd taken, marked 100#, with a few choice remarks added about his lack of teaching skill and compassion. I can only imagine how your son felt. Teachers like your son's give the profession a bad name!

Travis -- It was the man's unshakable confidence that I admired even more than his acumen. I've met students with misplaced confidence and that is a different matter. This man really knew his own ability and would not let anyone short change him.

Robin -- Last term, I had a girl student who shyly pointed out that she'd had a question marked correct when it should have been marked wrong. That's the only time that has ever happened to me. Like you, I did this myself when I was a student. A strong sense of right and wrong that persists even when it goes against your advantage isn't necessarily an asset, is it?

Nora -- I'll bet he was an English teacher himself. He must have been, don't you think? And stubborn too, like me. I could sooner fly to the moon than let them take a point off me.

AnneB said...

When I went to high school, the highest grade you could earn on your report card was 99. The teachers jokingly said it was because only God was perfect, but the real reason was that the computer "system" in the archdiocesan school office couldn't handle three digits!

(They were very old computers, folks. Really. Probably obsolete when the school office acquired them...)

Kim Ayres said...

I think if I was that convinced, I wouldn't have said go away and check, I would have said show me where the one point is missing. Good for him :)

Pat said...

Great story. I cold just picture him and his demeanour.
'The Turkish boy with the intelligent-looking face scored barely 38% and thought that the noun form of 'reception' was 'Reconnist'.

Don't want to look an idiot but I'm puzzled by 'the noun form of reception.' I though reception was a noun. Do I go to the bottom of the class?

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