Blonde Moment

Date posted on April 13, 2008

In the earlier Finals episode of this season’s American Idol, the contestants had to recount their most embarrassing moments. When I heard Ramiele’s, which involved going up to her crush’s home to give him her picture and getting laughed at, I was in stitches (I think that’s when I first liked her, cause she had both the voice and personality – now if only she chose better songs…).That made me stop and think of what answer I’d give if asked the same question. I couldn’t think of one. Not because I didn’t have any, but because most of the most humiliating scenes in my life happened when I was young. I’m now able to reminisce about them, share them with my friends, laugh at myself, and chalk it up to the things that made my childhood and puberty interesting and fun. Nevertheless, I was inspired to rummage through my cobwebbed memory so I’d be ready with an answer when asked for my very own embarrassing moment.

Still I couldn’t find any. But soon after watching that episode, I was given one.

Last March 2, which was a Sunday, my good comrade Chrissie and I went to Makati to take the TOEFL. As usual when I’m scheduled to do something important the following day, I wasn’t able to get proper sleep the night before. The test required us to be in De La Costa by 8AM, and at 4AM that Sunday, I was just about to go to sleep. Rather than run the risk of oversleeping and wasting my precious 6G’s because of tardiness. Obviously, this part of the story is intended to lay the predicate that I was sleepless that day.

(I’m not sure which details I have the liberty to discuss, so I’ll try to be as vague as possible without sacrificing content).

There was a short orientation before the internet-based exam proper. We were basically told that there were to be 4 parts, that we were to bring NOTHING inside the exam room, that the whole exam is timed, and that we were to follow instructions that would be flashed on the screen. We were also to be provided pencils and scratch paper, which we could be replenished upon request (they were to take and shred the used up paper).

I was called in before Chrissie was (we were called in successively and not at the same time, so we started at different times). They took a picture of me for the records and made me log my name and the time. We were to log in and out every time we left the exam room.

The first part of the exam proper tested our reading skills. Naturally, we were asked to read a passage for this. I read the article and tried to remember all the details for the exam part later. After finishing the article, I saw that there was a lot of time left. So I re-read the article. I noticed the scratch paper they provided and started taking down notes for to help me in the question and answer part later. I took little time doing this so there were still a few minutes left. I remembered seeing a Korean girl waiting with us in the anteroom, so I thought it was just fair that they allotted more time than necessary. After all, this was an internationally standardized test, and English-speaking Filipinos obviously had an advantage. We couldn’t expect all examinees to be quick readers like me!

After taking down notes, I still had a few minutes left. I slouched on my seat, relaxed and stared at the monitor while I waited for the questions.

The clock counted down to zero, and then a message appeared:

“Your time for answering the questions is over.”

If the exam moderators were to review the CCTV footage, they would’ve seen the stunned, horrified look that accompanied the sudden upright jerk of my body as I sat up straight and mouthed,

“What questions!?!?!!”

Only then did I realize that I wasn’t fast or advanced. I was just being stupid. The Korean girl who spoke little English probably sailed through the first part of the reading exam while I was to score a big, fat zero.

I was embarrassed, though since everyone was busy answering the exams, no one could possibly have seen me idling around, tapping my fingers on the desk as I stared at the computer. Aside from the moderators, that is. They were probably snickering and wondering why I refused to answer the test but were restricted from approaching me to offer a friendly coax or say, “The exam won’t answer itself, Sir. You have to do your part.”

I did not dare request a do over or ask them if I there’s any way they can invalidate that first part so I can salvage my test score, though I was very much tempted to approach them and explain what happened. I figured, if they thought I was pulling their leg, all I had to do is make them look at their records to see that I had NO ANSWER whatsoever and argue, “Who in their right mind would leave their TOEFL exam answer sheet blank!? Tanga na lang ang gagawa non, no!”

I realized I’d be answering my own question and admitting my stupidity in one fell swoop, so I kept silent and continued the exam instead. This was a four/five hour exam, mind you, and I was only at the first part. When the second part of the reading exam started and the second article came on, that’s the only time I noticed this little button at the upper right corner of the screen labeled “next.” (“Ahhh… pipindutin ko pala dapat yon.”) When I pressed the button, the first question came on, and guess what? The article that we were required to read was still there, and was never taken off the screen. There was no need to memorize details or take down notes for that part pala. (Anakngteteng.)

Naturally, the incident dampened my spirit for the rest of the exam. I felt tremendous pressure to ace all the remaining parts and the other exams. Still, even with that motivation, I felt like this was a hopeless campaign.

Sabi nga, be careful what you ask for. Finally, I have a new embarrassing moment to recount. It was more like a blonde moment, some people would say, but I see it as the worst possible kind of embarrassment – the one that embarrasses you even when no one else witnessed it.

I’m only able to recount this now because I feel redeemed. Kumbaga, may pambawi na.

I just got my TOEFL scores last week.

It goes like this kasi: They score you for each exam: reading, listening, speaking and writing. Your scaled score falls within certain levels: HIGH, INTERMEDIATE or LOW for the reading and listening parts; GOOD, FAIR, LIMITED, or WEAK for the speaking and writing parts.

The levels of my Listening, Speaking and Writing skills were all good. Naturally, the clincher was the Reading exam score. When I looked at my score, it was… (drumroll…) High Level!

I didn’t know kung matatawa ako o maiiyak sa tuwa. It wasn’t like I was precluded from taking the exam all over again if I failed it, but I just felt anxious over the prospect of my ego taking a beating and coughing up 6 thousand bucks for it all over again.

Syempre, my scaled score in reading was the lowest in the HIGH range. I guess it was too much to ask to be in the upper range, but I still couldn’t believe it. Either my indomitable spirit carried me through and yielded me enough points to compensate for my big fat ZERO on the first part of the Reading exam, or the test moderators previewed the CCTV tapes of the exam proper and commiserated after seeing in my face what I can only imagine as the definitive look of shock.