Chapter 11:

Brand New Life (6)

Gifted Education Project

Seeing Marie’s questions tipped off some sort of emotional volcano within me, and I impulsively raised my hand as a result. It didn’t take long for Ms. Emi to notice and walk over. In fact, her response was so quick, it felt as if she’d expected something like this to happen.Bookmark here

“Yes, Darren?”Bookmark here

She looked at me knowingly. Seeing her expression made me realise how dumb my complaint was going to sound, but I didn’t want to back down at this point.Bookmark here

“These questions are impossible.”Bookmark here

“Like the instructions say, you may request a new set of questions by turning—”Bookmark here

“Come on!” I whispered. “You have to be absolutely SHITTING me.” I gesticulated wildly at my tablet, but Ms. Emi didn’t even take so much as a glance.Bookmark here

“Then reset the paper. Did you or did you not read the instructions?”Bookmark here

She smiled, gave me an ironic two finger salute, then turned around faster than I could say the word “bitch”.Bookmark here

Oh my God. Did she really just do that?Bookmark here

I watched Ms. Emi’s figure recede as she sauntered over to the teacher’s desk. As I did, a few intrusive thoughts popped into my mind: The first was to pick up my tablet and throw it at her, hopefully causing some sort of minor-yet-extremely-painful injury, while the second was to stretch my limbs and “accidentally” topple over my desk. The third was to yell misogynistic statements. Sadly, all of those things would’ve caused instant failure, so I bit my lip and settled on number four: seething and coping.Bookmark here

I have arrived at a conclusion. This test is dumb, and Ms. Emi is a two-faced bitch. Bookmark here


Sigh.Bookmark here

As much as I wanted to sit there and rage, I knew I had a responsibility to score well on the test. After all, I’d never scored below 90% on a math exam before — as unbelievable as that may sound — and neither did I want the test where I got mugged off by Ms. Emi to be the streak breaker. My ego would get demolished so hard I wouldn’t be able to show up for class again.Bookmark here

Okay. I need to ace this shit.Bookmark here

But how?Bookmark here

Before I could come up with an answer to that, I needed to overcome one glaring issue: the seat I chose.Bookmark here

In most other positions, I could’ve checked three other tablets: the ones on my right and left, as well as the person in front through stretching exercises (contorting my body as if I was having a seizure) assuming they were short enough. Unfortunately, Bryan happened to be Bryan, and sitting in the last column meant the “person” on my left wasn’t a person at all, but a window. That was cool, but inanimate objects kinda sucked if you were looking for people specifically. Even worse was the fact that despite having a clear view of Marie, she was hunching over her tablet as she wrote, so all I could see was a bunch of pink hair and a middle school problem sum typed in Calibri. In fact, I even remembered her Question 2 from the recent A-Math national exam that I took.Bookmark here

Man, it would be really cool if I could see what she was writing…Bookmark here

Wait.Bookmark here

Wait wait wait. This is so dumb. I’m so damn dumb.Bookmark here

After realising something that should’ve occurred to me sooner, I raised my hand. In my defence, I’d never had to think so hard about how to cheat before. Once Ms. Emi noticed, she approached my desk with a look that suggested she knew exactly what I wanted to ask.Bookmark here

“Yes, Darren?”Bookmark here

One of her eyebrows was so arched I was afraid it’d jump off her face and latch onto me. Well, it was too late to back off now. I had to commit to the act. Bookmark here

“Can I go to the toilet?”Bookmark here

So I can walk around and have a look at everyone’s tablets, I wanted to add, but you know. Rather than saying the equivalent of “screw off” instantly, Ms. Emi took a glance at her phone.Bookmark here

Yes. It’s happening! I’m a frickin’ genius!Bookmark here

“No.”Bookmark here

“Wait, what? Why?”Bookmark here

“You don’t meet the requirements to use the toilet based on your bladder and bowel levels. During a 40-minute paper, we only allow students to use the toilet during emergencies.”Bookmark here

My jaw went slightly wide.Bookmark here

Is there a hidden camera in my ass or something?!Bookmark here

“Of course, I understand that you might’ve been looking for a way to destress during the exam, but you’ll have to find another solution that isn’t using the toilet. Sorry, but these are the rules.”Bookmark here

“At least you’re not being rude about it,” I mumbled.Bookmark here

“What?”Bookmark here

“Er, nothing. Thanks.”Bookmark here

Ms. Emi smiled and stepped away, but then hastily turned around as if remembering something.Bookmark here

“Right, one more thing. Don’t call me for anything stupid again. One more unnecessary question, and I’ll fail you on the spot. Got it?”Bookmark here

“…”Bookmark here

Oh, why do I even bother.Bookmark here

I picked up my tablet with every intention of tossing it at Ms. Emi, but at the last moment, I decided to just turn it over.Bookmark here

Don’t get angry. Just think.Bookmark here

Normal Darren would have wasted energy raging, but Post-Realisation Darren understood he had more important things to tend to rather than fantasising about teachers experiencing bodily harm. So, instead of imagining Ms. Emi slipping and falling and breaking her neck, I decided to close my eyes, stretch my neck towards the ceiling, and start breathing.Bookmark here

I guess, if you really wanted me to get into delusional middle schooler territory, I would’ve called this my thinking position.Bookmark here

Clear your mind. Start from the beginning.Bookmark here

What do you remember?Bookmark here

List out everything systematically, then deconstruct.Bookmark here

Don’t try to jump to the answer.Bookmark here

Just think. Bookmark here

Fact one: “The questions in this diagnostic test are scaled to your relevant Affinities.”Bookmark here

Disregarding that “relevant Affinities” meant nothing to me at the moment, the “scaled” part of the statement implied that every student was meant to face equal levels of relative difficulty on the test.Bookmark here

Okay, I could buy that. But how was I supposed to verify that sort of subjective claim?Bookmark here

Fact two.Bookmark here

I glanced at Marie one more time, then the timer, then went back to my thinking position.Bookmark here

I still couldn’t see what she was writing, but she’d just moved onto Question 3. With 27 minutes left and 5 questions in total, either the questions were ridiculously easy to her, or she didn’t know how to solve 1 and 2 properly.Bookmark here

Which was it?Bookmark here

Using an unproven hypothesis to prove something else would be silly, so I needed an objective way to arrive at a conclusion. The easiest way to do that would be to check her working, but since that was off the cards, I settled on something else: body language.Bookmark here

Earlier on, when Marie was writing fluffy notes with hearted ‘i’s and filling up her seating plan, she was sitting upright such that I could glimpse everything without meaning to. Now, she was bent over to the point where she was effectively lying on the table. Maybe this was a sign of being absorbed in focus, but I was more inclined to believe she didn’t know what she was doing because of something else.Bookmark here

Fact three. Bookmark here

When everyone first got their papers, they instinctively reset them. Even the #1 student in my middle school for math, Erica Park, caved in and asked for a nonexistent formula book. As much as I disliked her, I don’t think she would’ve resorted to an “excuse” like that for a normal high school math paper, even if it was extremely difficult.Bookmark here

Putting all three clues together, my theory was that everyone was given a set of impossible questions relative to their current abilities. What for, I’d probably figure out after, but it was increasingly clear this was intentionally designed to be impossible to pass… while giving the impression to examinees they simply got a difficult paper. They made it such that it seemed believable a “gifted” high schooler could ace the exam, relative to whatever you thought gifted ability was. If only I hadn’t recognised every question on my papers from past-year International Math Olympiads and the Oxford Mathematics Prospectus, maybe I would have bought into the scam like everyone else at three flips and attempted the paper in futility.Bookmark here

Great. Now I feel like a dick for saying Marie’s questions were easy.Bookmark here

Okay, I figured out the catch.Bookmark here

But so what?Bookmark here

Just because I figured out the catch didn’t mean that I found out how to abuse it. It was like clicking on the “hint” button on a chess puzzle, and having it highlight a piece — you still needed to calculate the moves and its continuation if you couldn’t see the answer right away. Bookmark here

I couldn’t figure out what the continuation was.Bookmark here

What would the school possibly stand to gain from giving a bunch of kids an impossible quiz?Bookmark here

Oh.Bookmark here

Fact four: “I’m terrible at studies, so getting into a normal high school was out of the question.”Bookmark here

Fact five: “Neural scan complete. Vitals OK, Stress OK.”Bookmark here

Stress. The answer was that the school was stressing us out.Bookmark here

As that thought anchored itself into the forefront of my mind, I very calmly flipped over my tablet and looked at my new Question 1.Bookmark here

QUESTION 1: Show that (cosec x -1)(cosec x +1)(sec x -1)(sec x +1) = 1. Hence or otherwise, show that (cosec x -1)(cosec x +1)(sec x -1)(sec x +1) = 2tan²(2x) - 5sec2x for 0 < x ≤360°. [8 marks]Bookmark here

“Shit. I really figured it out.”Bookmark here

I said it loudly enough for Erica to hear, grabbed my stylus, then started scribbling away on my tablet with 24 minutes left. Surprisingly, Ms. Emi didn’t seem to care, because I didn’t get any warnings for turning around and purposefully talking to another student.Bookmark here

You can resume reading from this paragraph.