The fall is back-to-school time. It always brings back memories of dear ol’ Pennsylvania College of Optometry and the relentless torture of quizzes and tests that beat the stupid out of us by the time we received our doctorates. 

Man, I still hate tests. Some people are amazing test takers. Most of us are not. At PCO, we had an Honors/Pass/Fail grading system. This worked well for me as I figured my best move was to Pass, which I guess I did. The reason I’m guessing is that after four years of undergrad premedical throat-cutting, I decided I’d never check a test score again. So, throughout four years of optometric education, I never checked one score. I figured they’d let me know if I failed. 

And once they actually did just that. After our very first physiological optics test, I was informed that I had scored the lowest grade in the history of physiological optics. But then, on the second quiz two weeks later, I scored the highest grade in the class. 

The professor called me into his office to figure out how I turned things around so quickly. My explanation was simple: “When I took the first test, I used my slide rule to figure out the answer, and that’s what I wrote down. When I took the second test, I used my slide rule to figure out the answer, and then I wrote the exact opposite down.” 

He seemed pleased that I finally understood physiological optics. 

But the tests in optometry school covered so much information! How could anyone ever remember such volume? It wasn’t easy. The good news is that I had come from a tough little liberal arts school, Washington and Lee University, where I spent four years drowning in the huge volume of data I was expected to know to achieve my undergraduate degree and become excellent at Trivial Pursuit. 

I had developed a study technique where I wrote down everything, enough to fill 50 pages, which I creatively called “notes.” I then condensed this into 10 pages I called “note notes,” and then to two pages which I called “note note notes,” and then to one page I called “note note note notes,” and then to one 5x7” card called “note note note note notes,” and then… Well, you get the idea. 

So, all I had to do the morning of the test was refer to a little 3x5” card and all that data came flooding back. Genius!

My favorite test question of all time came in 1971 when I was a freshman taking my first history test. It went like this: “Why do you think Constantinople became the capitol city of the Roman Empire?”

I answered the crazy question the best I could. So I was horrified to find my answer was marked incorrect on the test results. 

I made an appointment with the professor, a published and world-renowned historian. I asked him to read the question. After he said, “Why do you think—” I said, “STOP!” and I explained that there is no such thing as an incorrect answer to this question. 

Then I explained that I’d revised my answer since the examination. My new answer was: “I think it was because they lost a bet!”

He laughed and changed my grade. I finally achieved a C!

But, despite such academic success, I still hate tests. And I’m studying for one right now. Hopefully, by the time I get to my “note note note note note note notes,” I’ll be ready and everything will fit on a postage stamp.