I wrote the JAMB UME (entrance examinations for Nigerian universities) for the first time when I was still in SS3. My mother thought it wise to have us write the exams in final year of secondary school, not so that we would start university immediately, but so that we would be familiar with the exam, in preparation for the following year. Up to that point I’d been an A student and had never failed any exam, so it didn’t matter to me that this was a mock exam of sorts – I had no intentions of failing.
I prepared as much as I could considering that I still had regular schoolwork, and I scored 254 (out of 400). Everyone congratulated me and said it was a considerably high score particularly for a first attempt, and so I felt quite chuffed with myself. The plan was to study Economics at University of Lagos (Unilag), so naturally, I checked the cutoff mark when it was announced and saw that it was 272. I was crestfallen. Even though I wasn’t planning to apply that year, I interpreted it as a failure because I wouldn’t have gotten in if I’d wanted to. I wouldn’t have been good enough. I remember being quite stunned. It wasn’t entirely rational, now that I think about it, but it felt like Unilag had rejected me, and I did not know what to make of the feeling.
So, I did what I tend to do when faced with a rejection – I made a plan to go back, guns blazing, and get my ‘yes’. I told myself that I would study my head off and score so highly the following year, that Unilag would “beg” me to come. For me, “begging” translated to them offering me two admissions – one for direct entry diploma and another for UME entry. And so, I did the work. I enrolled in a prep school, studied round the clock, and planned everything to a T. I gave myself target scores for both exams and figured out the exact combination of scores I needed to get those scores, based on my areas of strength. I studied so hard and prepped so diligently that the prep school (notably one of the best at the time) offered me a summer teaching position, for after the exams.
Then came exam day. I went into the hall pretty confident. The exam covered 4 subjects – English compulsorily and 3 others, selected by the student, based on their chosen course of study. My combination was English, Math, Economics and Geography. English booklets were handed out to everyone at the start of the test, upon whose submission, you were then given a booklet with the remaining subjects. The total duration of the exam was two hours, if I remember correctly, and you could allocate your time however you wished; the clock started when you were given the English booklet and only stopped at the end. I made a quick meal of the English exam, handed it in and requested for the second booklet with my other subjects.
Reader, this was the beginning of the end. The examiner didn’t have it.
Me: Excuse me??
They couldn't find the second booklets for majority of test takers in my hall that day. I almost cried. Of course, I most definitely cried later, but I mean, I almost cried on the spot. After much shouting and complaining, cursing and agitation, they finally found our booklets about 30 minutes to the end of the exam. As they handed them out, they informed us that we would not be given any extra time, as the entire centre was going by one clock, so we all had to end at the same time.
Amidst vehement protestations, I began answering the questions, not wanting to waste any more time. I honestly didn’t think they meant it (because how could anyone be so cruel?), still I flew threw that question booklet like a crazed person. I completed the Economics and Geography sections, but only managed to answer 19 out of 40 math questions, before my answer sheet was snatched out of my furiously scribbling hands by the invigilator. I was numb all the way home and sunk into a puddle of tears when I reached. I knew the combination I needed to attain my 310 target score. Even if I’d correctly answered all the questions I attempted, 19 out of 40 in math was just not enough to give me my desired score. My one year of planning…studying the hardest I’d ever studied in my life (till date) …all of it, gone down the drain.
It had been for nothing.