Year of Requirement Part 21
I’m trying to remember if I missed any major events during my year of requirement. I remember there was something called a spelling contest, and I had images of spelling bees, but it turned out all we did was take an English vocab test in which spelling counted. (Guess who won? The first person to guess correctly will win a lovely gift.) I think all the big events were over by the end of the 2nd trimester, and everyone got down to studying, or, at least, got down to obsessing about studying, procrastinating about studying, making excuses about not studying by that time.
I was doing consistently well on my practice tests. There was a number called “hensachi,” which translates into “deviation value,” I guess. It showed where you were on the distribution of test scores, designed to fall into a bell curve. 50 was average, and anything higher was better. By winter, I hovered consistently around the mid to high 60’s, which was supposedly good enough to get into my first choice school.
You applied to the school you chose, based on where you want to go and also what your practice test scores and your report card told you that you could realistically expect of yourself. Then, the day of the exam, you’d go to the school, take five different written tests (Japanese language, math, social studies, science, and English) in a single day, come home, and hope for the best. The school based about half of your score on your exam and half of your score on your transcript. All the public high schools made you take the same written tests, but, of course, the cutoff would be different depending on whether you were applying for a top-ranking college prep school, a less competitive school, or a vocational school.
Everyone was, understandably, on edge about all of this. A very important part of your life was going to be decided by a single day’s worth of tests. Add that to the awful hormonal surges of puberty, how generally difficult it is for 15 year-olds to focus and do what they’re supposed to do, especially when it was something they didn’t really want to, but how not doing the stuff could lead to not getting in your school of choice. Really, exams couldn’t come soon enough.
The day of the exams was really, really cold. I went to the school on my sister’s bicycle. (I had my own bicycle, but it was a Schwinn with gears that would catch the uniform skirt and it didn’t have a rack or basket for my bag.) We were assigned numbers and put in rooms of about 40 of us each. That year, there was one slot for every 1.2 (or thereabouts) students, so I guess that meant there were a little fewer than 500 of us that day. The first test was Japanese language. After the requisite kanji questions and reading comprehension questions, we had to write a short essay. The topic was—get this—“when foreign countries seem close to you.” I felt like this was the universe telling me that I was going to get into this school. (And a few of the kids told me later “I wrote that my friend Pumpkinmommy is from the US and when she tells me about her old school, I feel like the USA isn’t that far away!” OK, kid, cool. I won’t talk about the time you made fun of me because I pronounced a word wrong.) I managed to mostly (but not completely) answer most (but not all) the questions in math. Pumpkin Prefecture’s public HS exam was, back then, notoriously famous for being difficult (even though we were the boonies), so I wasn’t surprised. I answered almost all of the Social Studies questions with confidence. We’d take a test, leave the room, take another test, leave the room, take another test, and eat the lunches we brought. My mom packed me Campbell’s Chicken Noodle Soup in a thermos. The other kids were fascinated by it. I guess it helped relieve their tension. Then we took two more tests. I felt good about my Science test and finished my English test in about 10 minutes (of something like 45 or 50 minutes) and spent my time pondering how I was going to get to say goodbye to my year of requirement, and how I did not really regret it.
Results were announced a week later, when applicant numbers were posted on a big board in front of the main entrance of the school. The rest, as we say, is history.