Early Friday morning, I watched as an anxious looking bunch of students and their equally anxious parents wandered in to MGCI. There’s no doubt about it: the TOPS entrance exam can be quite a scare. Funny looking squiggles on the math exam suddenly look far more ominous. Innocent looking science questions reveal the hours you should have spent watching Discovery. The English section is a mind boggling race to the finish. In the end, it is a test of courage in the face of negative scoring.
Exam day can also be quite fun for the seniors who are invigilating, that is, until the novelty wears off. Ways to pass the time include flipping through the exam to find particularly difficult questions you can now answer (aha!), eating chocolate guiltily while students struggle in front of you, playing tic-tac-toe, playing would-you-rather through mime, and drawing pizzas on the board.
Invigilating for the exam did feel like a benchmark in my high school career. Grade eleven already? Time certainly flies when you’re having fun (and when every week is a race against due dates).
As I watched the grade eights scribble away, the inevitable “what-ifs” snuck up again. What if I hadn’t gotten into TOPS? Where would I be? Would I be happy there? The answer, I think, is yes. I would probably learn to love whatever school or program I ended up at. Sitting there with my thoughts, I was reminded of the process I would go through next year when applying for university. There will be more at stake, perhaps, but it will be the same kind of uncertainty about the future and the same kind of anxiety that comes from hoping your efforts will be rewarded. Yes, I will probably learn to love whatever university I choose. The hardest part will be learning to cope with the rejection that I somehow managed to dodge in grade eight.
Oh well, I’ll leave those worries for later. Kudos to everybody who applied and braved the exam. I’m excited to see who will be in the next cohort of TOPS kids. Until then, remember the lesson we all learned on TOPS exam day – “eat and drink hearty folks!”