I Cheated on Tests in First Grade by
(34 Stories)

Prompted By Exams

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I guess you could call me a natural test taker.  I actually look forward to tests, I consider them to be games.  I have to admit, though, that I cheated on a number of tests in first grade.

My boss said "I'd love to spend an hour inside your head someday".

I should probably explain that.  I think that I was able to read long before that first day when Mrs.  Goodwin brought a group of us to the front of the room, had us sit in a semicircle, and opened up a large book in front of us.  (Now, most children are reading at some level before they leave kindergarten.)  As soon as she opened it, I blurted out “Look”, which was the first and only word on that page.  As we continued practicing reading, we would have weekly tests in which she would read a word and we would circle that word in our workbooks.  I soon discovered that all of the test words were listed in fine print in the back of the workbook, so I just filled in all of the tests in advance.  Mrs. Goodwin was a little peeved when she discovered what I had done, but I didn’t really get into trouble for it.

I breezed through elementary school, junior high school, and senior high school.  I was moved ahead in math and science, and took Algebra I in eighth grade.  (Again, nowadays most of the more competent students take Algebra I or its equivalent in middle school.)  I was one of our school’s representatives on the Algebra I team taking the state scholarship tests, and placed in the top fifteen in the state.  In ninth grade I placed again in the top fifteen in Geometry, and in tenth grade I was second in the state in Algebra II.  Having run out of math tests to take, I was on the Chemistry team in eleventh grade, and placed first in the state of Ohio.  Finally, at the end of my senior year, having run out of both math and science classes, I placed at the state level in English.

I took the SAT and three subject tests (Math, Chemistry, and English) in one long day in the fall of 1966.  Out of 4000 possible points, I got 3960.  I also placed highly on the National Merit Scholarship Test, which resulted in an award of $1500 per year for my four years in college, which was about 30% of the total cost of tuition, room, and board at that time.  (Now, the top National Merit scholarship is a one-time award of $2500, just a small fraction of the cost of one year of college.)

When I got to college, however, it became less of a game.  My math preparation at my small semi-rural high school in southeastern Ohio did not arm me adequately for the fairly advanced program in Chemistry into which I was placed as a result of my performance on the state scholarship test in that subject several years earlier.  The course involved integration and differential equations, and I was at that time just taking calculus for the first time.

After graduating with an A.B. degree in Chemistry, I worked as a land surveyor for a couple of years, taught math at a local technical college for another two years, and then began a master’s degree program in Industrial and Systems Engineering at Ohio University.  While I was there, at some point I filled in for professors who were out on business trips or at meetings, and ended up teaching at least once in every class that I had taken.  My master’s degree led me to a job as an industrial engineer in the coal mining operations of American Electric Power.  I spent 24 years in mining, one year as manager of engineering education, and ten years in the research and development group, using my chemistry degree from thirty years earlier to try to find ways to mitigate the environmental damage due to the company’s coal-burning power plants.  (At the time, we burned 80 million tons of coal per year!)

I retired in 2010, walked out of the building with my boss, and immediately began working toward a second career in teaching.  I took some classes at Otterbein University in a suburb of Columbus, Ohio (more tests!) and then took the national Praxis exams in Math, Chemistry, Physics, and the Principles of Teaching and Learning, and placed at the “Certificate of Excellence” level in the first three.  I began substitute teaching in the central Ohio area in 2011, continued subbing in the Wilmington, NC area in the fall of 2013, and am now a full-time chemistry teacher at the best of the four public high schools in the area.

The boss who walked out the door with me in 2010 once asked me what my ideal job would be.  I replied “Doing problem sets.”  He looked at me, shook his head, and said “I’d love to spend an hour inside your head someday.”

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  1. Suzy says:

    Most people who went to our mutual alma mater were good test takers, but the fact that you enjoyed taking tests seems unusual to me (although other commenters may disagree). Maybe that experience with Mrs. Goodwin got you off to a good start.

    You give such a thorough account of your academic experiences from first grade to the present that you can probably just recycle the last half of it in a few weeks for the College Majors prompt. But I’m hoping you will have more to say on that topic.

  2. Great story, Jeff. Too bad there doesn’t seem to be a market for your ideal career. Oh, wait. Maybe there is, but it involves going to the dark side like the folks who were associated with William Singer.

  3. Laurie Levy says:

    You are the exception to the rule — someone who loves and thrives on taking tests. I enjoyed your tale of first grade cheating, although if I had been your teacher, I would have recognized the behavior as being a sign of a very smart kid. My son, who is a major test-taking guy, once had a job doing problem sets for a text book company to be sure the answer key was correct. I think you would have loved that!

    • Jeff Gerken says:

      Yeah, that was the job I envisioned. I have on occasion found errors in both the problem sets and the texts themselves. I tell my students to cross the errors out and write the correct information in, in pen, on the page.
      Now that I’m teaching full time, I would not have the time to be a textbook editor, but I would consider it if I ever actually retire.

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