When I was a first-year college student in Tokyo, my very first final exam was for the course titled “Introduction to Calculus”. As an enthusiastic new math major student, this was my favourite of all the courses I took in the first semester. I was so excited about the subject that I even bought a famous textbook of calculus as soon as I entered college. Throughout the semester, whenever I wasn’t attending lectures, I read and studied the book at the campus library and at various coffee shops nearby. At night, I would sleep with the textbook next to my pillow just because it felt good to keep the book beside me.
The day before my final exam for calculus, I eagerly worked on the final prep late into the night. I photocopied several important pages from the textbook and put them together in a folder so that I could read those pages more easily. I also continued to make my own notes about each page I photocopied. On the floor of my tiny student apartment, I got so absorbed in the task that I neglected my bedtime. I continued to make notes throughout the night, and at around 4 am, I finally collapsed on the floor. I couldn’t keep my eyes open anymore.
The next thing I knew was that I woke up to a phone call. It was one of my classmates, calling me from the exam room.
“Hey, where are you? The exam is about to start!”
I glanced at the clock, and to my horror, I saw that it was quarter to 10 am. The calculus exam was scheduled to start at 10!
“I slept in!” I gasped on the phone. “I just woke up!”
Within five minutes, I washed my face, got dressed, packed all my notes into my bag – I don’t remember if I ate anything at all – and dashed out of the door. I had to at least sit and take the exam. Otherwise, what was the point of all the preparation?
I took two trains and ran to the exam room. It was midsummer in Tokyo, I was sweating all over when I finally got to the exam building. Since I was late, I was led to a special room for the late comers. Somewhat relieved that I wasn’t the only one to arrive late at a final exam, I sat at the table and told my course title to the person in charge.
Everybody in the room was frantically running their pencils against the exam paper. There was less than an hour remaining. As soon as my exam paper arrived in front of me, I joined the club, scribbling fast on my paper, answering one question after another. Fortunately, my preparation had paid off, and I had no difficulty in answering the questions.
When the time was up, I put down my pencil and waited for my paper to be collected. Due to the lack of time, I had to miss a few small questions, but I was really happy and satisfied. Just the fact that I was allowed to take the exam felt like a lifesaver, and moreover, I was able to answer almost all the questions with such confidence.
After the exam, I joined my classmates for lunch and told them how I had slept in and almost missed the exam after all the preparation.
“How on earth can you stay calm in a situation like that!” They said to me with a look of admiration on their faces. “You also got quite a nerve to be late for your first final exam!”
Though flattered by their comments, calm was not the word I would have used to describe myself that day. Panic and despair would have been the right words. Since then, I have never been late on any exam that I took, and certainly never slept in on the day of exam.