Sunday, September 23, 2012


The hallway was filled with students. Some were excited, others were nervous. Some talked and laughed, others were silent. All of us were here for the same reason – the chemistry exam.

“Do you have the polyatomic ions from Table 2.9 memorized?” the girl across the hall asked the guy next to me.
“Mostly. The only one I can’t remember is thiocyanate.”
“That would be SCN with a charge of -1,” I supplied.
“Oh, thanks!” The young man seemed grateful. “I studied for 3 hours this afternoon, memorizing that table.”
He would have an easier time on the test if he had started memorizing before this afternoon, I mused.
Another girl seemed less prepared. “What’s Table 2.9?”
“It’s the table that has the polyatomic ions,” I responded.
“Can’t I just calculate those from the periodic table?”
“No. They are handled in groups, and you can’t just use the periodic table. You have to memorize the ions and their charges.”
“Oh no!” The girl was clearly dismayed. “What page is it on?”
“Page 60, right here,” another student showed her in the chemistry textbook.
“I’m going to quiz you on them to see if you really have memorized them,” the girl challenged me.
“Sure, go ahead.” I had been reviewing these ions every day for the previous week, so I knew that while I had a few weak spots, I knew most of them pretty well.
“NO3, charge of -1.”
“SO3, charge of -2.”
“Wow, you weren’t lying about reviewing these! I wish I knew them like you do.”
I thought to myself, I wish I knew all of them like I know those two. I’m not as prepared as she thinks I am. “It’s not all that hard. Nitrate and nitrite both have a charge of -1, but nitrate has one more oxygen atom than nitrite. Sulfate and sulfite both are -2, but sulfate has one more oxygen atom than sulfite. And so on…”
“How do you remember all that?”
Lots of practice, my friend…
She continued, “I’m going to have a really bad time on this test. I can just feel it. Can I sit next to you?”
I felt sorry for her. She was not prepared, and she knew it.
“Sure, you can sit where you like, but it’s not as if I could help you on the test anyway.”
“I know, but we could be really good friends and everything…” Her voice trailed off as she opened her chemistry textbook for some last minute review.

A few minutes later, the doors opened, and students began filing into the hall where the exam was to take place. “Everyone put your backpacks up here,” one of the test administrators announced. “And turn your cellphones OFF. If your cellphone goes off during the test and we hear it, we will confiscate it, and it will be a long time until you get it back, if you get it back at all.” He continued stating the rules for the test. Only pencils, erasers, and approved calculators were allowed – everything else had to be in your backpack, and on silent mode.

I put my backpack with the stack of other backpacks, and found my seat. A girl in the seat next to me was trying to calm down her friend in the row ahead. “Don’t worry. Just take a deep breath and approach it calmly. You’ll do fine.” She turned to me. “Are you prepared?”
“Me? Well, I’m mostly prepared. I wouldn’t mind being a little more comfortable on a few things though. I’ve been reviewing the polyatomic ions every day for the last week, but there are still a few that I tend to forget the charges on.”
The girl’s eyes opened wide. “You’ve been memorizing them for the last week? That’s amazing. You’ve got it down, I can tell.” She turned to her friend in the row ahead. “See, he’s prepared and confident. You’ll do fine since you prepared for it too.”
“Oh, I’m not that confident. I prepared the best I could, so now I’m just praying that I’ll remember the important stuff,” I returned.
“Oh, come on. You’re worried now, but I’m sure you’ll get an A. With that approach, who wouldn’t?”
“Well, I guess we’ll see.” I noticed that she seemed quite confident of my ability to get a good grade. “You’re prepared too, I take it?”
“Oh, for the most part, I guess.”

Our conversation ended abruptly as the test administrator announced that calculator covers were not allowed, and they needed to be stored in a backpack during the test. My new friend and I both got up and walked to our backpacks. Incidentally, our backpacks were right next to each other. “I guess that means we’re both going to do well,” she laughed.

“One last warning. Your cellphones MUST be off and in your backpack or stored somewhere else. If we catch you looking at your cellphone, you will be disqualified.”
After a few brief instructions on how to fill out the information on our answer sheets, the exam began. The exam had twenty questions, all multiple choice. The first few questions were fairly easy, but they quickly became more difficult. But I knew the material well, and I didn’t find myself “stuck” on any problems. I finished the test in 40 minutes. There were 50 more minutes left before time would be called. I decided that since I wanted the best grade possible, I would go over every single problem and redo the calculations, in case I could discover any errors. I was glad I did, because I did find a mistake in one of my calculations.

Finally, I was finished checking my answers. I turned in my answer sheet to my chemistry instructor, and collected my belongings. I noticed that most of the students had left already, but the girl I had sat next to was still working on her test. I waved goodbye as I walked past her on my way out, but she was studiously bent over her paper, and didn’t notice.

The next morning, I joined several other students who were early for our English class. “How did you do on the test last night?” one of my friends asked me.
“Oh, I think I did pretty well. I checked all my answers, and I was pretty sure about all my answers.”
“What score did you get?”
“I don’t know yet.”
The exam key was now available on the school website. The night before, I had the forethought to make a note of the answers I had chosen, since we were allowed to keep our test booklets. So I was able to check my own work, and see what my grade would be. I opened my laptop and pulled up the exam key. I went through and checked my answers. “Hmm, that’s too bad. I calculated the wrong amount of nitrogen,” I sighed. “And it was supposed to be chloric acid, not chlorous acid.”
“Oh, but you still got a good score,” another friend said. “My roommate took that test last night too, and got 60%.”
“Really? What happened? She missed 8 questions?”
“Yeah. She didn’t study much ahead of time.”
“I see. Well, at least she’ll have the opportunity to retake it in a month.” Our chemistry professor gave us the option to take each exam twice, in case we didn’t do as well the first time. The higher score would be the one that counted for our grades. At least there would be a second chance.

Reflecting on it later, I thought about that second chance. I wonder how many students neglected getting ready, because they were counting on that second chance. Last minute cramming is no substitute for thorough study. Not every test has a second chance.

And I wonder how many people will face their final test unprepared, because they neglected the preparation of the heart…

I’m not talking about a grade in a college chemistry course. I’m talking about the judgment. And the results of this test determine your eternal destiny.

Maybe people think they will have another chance.
Or that they have time to parley with the world.

Maybe they don’t understand the depth of preparation required.
Maybe they don’t understand that the only way to success is the complete surrender of their life to God.

Or maybe they don’t realize the grave consequences of holding on to self.

Don’t let it be you.