Mathochism: Cheaters and fools

One woman’s attempt to revisit the math that plagued her in school. But can determination make up for 25 years of math neglect?

“The average score on this last test was 65 percent,” the dapper professor told us at the end of class tonight. “Most of you did better on the Chapter 3 test than this one. That is not good.”

I could feel my throat closing as he said it.

Had I really done so badly? The test did not feel difficult; I was completely comfortable as I converted fractions to decimals and decimals to percentages. My reptile math brain had not forgotten how to divide with a decimal point, though I had to remind myself on decimal placement during multiplication.

It seemed like forever before he called my name. I went up and got my test. I glanced at the score, terrified.

100 percent.

Ha! Suck it, class average!

The woman who sits in front of me — let’s call her Lisa — got a 95. She has gotten the same score on three out of four tests, and 100 on the first one. So far, her average is better than mine, but we have bonded over our mutual math phobia. For her, though, this is not a pet project. She needs these classes to get into nursing school. I get the feeling, though, that she will do fine.

We think we have discovered the secret to our test success last week: Sugar.

Last week, before the test, I pounded a peach Snapple. Lisa had some fruit gummy candy. We’ve decided to try it again on Thursday, when we have our Chapter 5 test on exponents.

We decided this during our first class break. Both of us were annoyed at that point, because the students at the back of the class had been really noisy throughout the first half of class.

I am not sure why — maybe they’re at the “fuck it, this is pass/fail anyway” stage — but it was also annoying the dapper professor. He gave them a stern look at one point, and said “there has been too much noise at the back of the class.”

That seemed to work, but I was still surprised at the sudden outbreak of noise. Lisa had another theory: They’re getting cocky. She has heard that people in the back of the class have been cheating on tests by using calculators.

How this escaped the dapper professor, I am not sure. But he does look rather sleepy sometimes as he keeps vigil at the front of the class during exams. But that sleepiness seems deceptive. His slumber could be that of a Cerberus, and I, for one, am not one to poke him in the eye.

Besides, if there was such a rampant use of calculators, how do we explain the poor class performance on the last test? Decimals, after all, are well suited to calculators.

I have been told by various community college habitues — including my classmate Lisa — that cheating is endemic at such institutions. I imagine it happens at all colleges large and small. My undergraduate alma mater had a very strict honor code, and because of it, we were allowed to take self-scheduled, unproctored exams.

I never heard of anyone cheating there, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen. I still remember being horrified when I found out a friend of a friend (and this was a quite well-off friend of a friend) made a point of shoplifting regularly at Victoria’s Secret. Why should such lack of moral fiber not translate to her academic affairs?

But at the end of the day, I don’t care if the back of the class cheats or not. Calculators won’t help those fools in Algebra I.

And I have to go study some exponents. I’ll be damned if I’m going to match the class average on the next test.

All text copyrighted by A.K. Whitney, and cannot be used without permission.

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