The Lost Exam

In 22 years of teaching, I’ve maintained a perfect record: I have never lost anyone’s exam, quiz, or assignment. Until last week.

There have been some close calls. More than once--despite pleas and instructions--students have tucked their Scantron sheets back into the exam booklet. When the proctors, TAs, and I are madly scrambling to accept everyone’s exams when time runs out, we sometimes miss separating the sheets from the booklets. The student will later complain that they wrote the exam, but there’s no mark for them. That’s when we start digging through the bookets, one by one.

I make the proctors count the number of students at the exam. I don’t want anyone coming to me claiming that they certainly did write the exam, yes indeedy, and the absent-minded prof must’ve lost it, yup, uh-huh. So far, no one’s tried pulling this one on me, but I’ve heard urban legends...

Typically, after multiple choice exams come back from Test Scoring, I carefully go through the results, and note which students are lacking exam data. Maybe they were sick, or maybe they wrote their exams at SAS (Student Accessibility Services). If students write an exam at the SAS office, I have them hand-deliver their exams back to the Department of Psychology General Office. (Don’t worry, the exams are sealed in an envelope to prevent monkey business.) Sometimes, students don’t deliver their exams back until the next day. This is awkward, because I try to get exams scored as soon as possible (I walk them over to Test Scoring myself immediately after the exam). If I wait for exams from SAS, that delays the results for everyone.

Last week, I sent out notices to the students who were lacking data from Test Scoring, reminding them that I need documentation for any absence. One notice went out to a student who wrote the exam at SAS--and they replied right away, saying that they had delivered their exam immediately. I went back to my mailbox to check; nope, no exam. Strange. Was the student lying? Nope--the student had a return receipt with the signature of one of the Psych Department’s admin assistants: the exam had been delivered. It was just...lost.

I scanned instructors’ mailboxes in the Psychology Office. Maybe the student’s exam was put into the wrong mailbox? Nope, nothing in the boxes beside, below, or above my box. Drat. Then I started looking through everyone’s mailboxes: profs, instructors, grad.students, staff. One prof had a big stack of envelopes from SAS in her mailbox. I looked at them, but they were all addressed to her, not me. Double drat.

I went back to my office, where I had three other envelopes of exams from SAS. Was there another envelope stuck to the others? Stuck inside another envelope? On the floor? I spent half an hour scouring my office. Lots of dust bunnies on the floor. But no exam. Triple drat. My mind raced as I considered what I would tell the student. “Someone lost your exam, but it wasn’t me.” “Would you mind writing the exam again?” (Not allowed.) “Your final is going to be worth an extra 22.5%, is that OK?” (Ouch.)

These thoughts led me back to the Psychology Office. If the exam wasn’t in my office, maybe it was somewhere in the General Office. But where? Logic dictated that I look again in everyone’s mailboxes. But I looked already--didn’t I? I decided to look again, more closely this time. What about the prof with all those SAS envelopes in her mailbox?

I pulled the stack of envelopes out, looking closely at them. I saw one envelope had a sticker with the name of the student I was looking for, and then another one envelope from the same student. Both envelopes were hand-addressed to the other prof. Wha--? This one student couldn’t possibly have written two exams for that prof at the same time. Looking more closely, I saw the sticker on one envelope had a different course number on it, and the sticker on the other envelope had my course number on it. There is was: the lost exam.

Whoever had hand-addressed the envelopes at SAS had put the other prof’s name on the envelope containing the exam meant for me. It was simple human error. I was just relieved it wasn’t my errror.

My record still stands: 22 years without a single lost exam.

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