Turning Point by Beth Irvine: Entrance exam

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Ahh, June. Early days of summer . . . sun streaming through the six-foot windows on the south side of Miss Vickery’s Grade 6 classroom . . . buzzing flies . . . junior high entrance exams. After all the spelling tests, science projects and book reports, did we know enough to pass into the halls of higher learning? Change classes several times a day? Eat in the high school cafeteria (there was none in the school I attended)? Play in a gymnasium (we didn't have one of those either)?

It may very well have been the first time in my life that I stayed in one place for more than five minutes. What a long two hours it was! Before we started, Miss Vickery made sure we got rid of our gum and that each of us had two sharp pencils and an eraser. She announced that there would be no allowance for answering the calls of nature. And, whether we were stumped or had our exams completed, we were confined to our seats and could not leave until the allotted time had passed.

Each exam packet held pages and pages of fill-in-the-blanks, multiple choice and essay questions. How we scribbled! Until confronted with a map of the county . . . I couldn’t recall a single time when we had looked at a map like that, severed from the rest of the province. Fortunately for me, road maps and topographical maps were examined often in the home where I grew up—to plan both for road and fishing trips—so I was eventually able to orient myself, pick out the landmarks, and label the railroad and the county seat.

If we finished before time, Miss Vickery assured us, it would be a good opportunity to go over our answers to make sure we had made the right choices and that we had, in fact, filled in every blank. Oh, we could stare all we liked at the blackboards if we wanted to. They were washed clean and, for once, held not a single clue. We could watch bees fumble in the geranium blossoms on the window sills or gaze at the sparrows and robins frolicking in the Anglican churchyard next door. But until the call to hand in our papers, sit we must.

My answer to boredom in that school was to use my pencil to excavate the cracks between the floorboards. It's hard to imagine now what satisfaction a child could find in that activity, although on occasion I did find one of those tiny cod liver oil pills or a bobby pin. When I bent to pry, with my pencil, the dust from between the boards, however, Miss Vickery came as near to hissing at me as I ever heard her. Did she think there was enough room in those crevices to conceal a crib note?

One after another, the minutes paraded by in long procession, and we were released.

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