Test Time


Cultural Notes for Discussion: Before the Reading



1.   Have you ever been in a situation where you felt you were not      being treated fairly?  What did you do about it?  What do you think you should do?  Are there ways to talk about the      injustice and have it remedied?


2.   The play you are about to read is about students not being      treated fairly by their teacher.  Have you ever been in a      class where you felt you were being treated unfairly?  What      was your situation?  Could you do anything to change the      situation?  Did you?


3.   Do you think that all students should be graded according to   the same set of criteria?  Why?  Why not?  Do you think there      might be other criteria, such as a person's innate ability      for the subject - or lack of it - that should be considered      also?



    Test Time

                Copyright ©2004 by Gary Carkin



PROFESSOR JAMES (Freshman English Teacher)





SETTING:     The setting is a women's dorm room.  In the room, are Betsy and Pat who are roommates.  Jackie will come to study with them.  They are working on papers for a freshman English composition course.


Pat is at the desk, stage left.  Betsy's at desk, stage right.  They are both writing and then erasing.  Finally:



BETSY:       Ah.  (Puts down pencil)  I'm so tired of writing!  And nothing        seems to come together right.

PAT:       Just keep trying, Bet.  You're bound to improve.

BETSY:       I don't know whether it's a matter of improvement.             Whatever I write, the grade is always the same:  D- or D.

PAT:       Well, Professor James is just a hard grader, I guess.

BETSY:       But you keep getting A's and B's.  I don't see that much           difference between what you write and what I write.              (Pause) I think he's prejudiced.

PAT:       Prejudiced?  Why?

BETSY:       Well, remember he gave that so called "diagnostic" test        the first day?

PAT:       Yes.

BETSY:       Well - although he says he doesn't grade them, I think he            categorizes everyone according to the results - right               from the start.

PAT:       Really?

BETSY:       And I wasn't feeling well the first day of class.  I just       zipped through that first composition without thinking.           My mind was more on my stomach than on my writing.

PAT:       Why don't you tell him?

BETSY:       What difference does it make?  He should change his                grading when I produce something better.  He doesn't.            He's got me placed in the "D" category and that's where          I stay.  I'm tired of it.

PAT:       Let's test him!

BETSY:       Test him?  How?

PAT:       Look, Jackie's coming over tonight.  She's just like you.           Everything she passes in she gets back "D", D+, D-.  It's           got her bugged.  That's why she's so terrified of the              final.

BETSY:       So?

PAT:       So. If I'm getting A's and B's and those should change to           D's, we've got some proof of what you say.

BETSY:       Why should they change?

PAT:       If I should pass my paper in under your name and he gives      it a D automatically, we've got proof!

BETSY:       What about Jackie?

PAT:       That's even better.  I'll do the same for her.

BETSY:       What about you?  What will you write for yourself?

PAT:       I'll use yours and Jackie's paper.  I'll say that one is        for extra credit.  Get it?

BETSY:       Got it!  If he gives those A's because they're under your           name, we've got him!

PAT:       And with four papers, that's certainly enough proof.


(There's a knock on the door)


PAT:       That must be Jackie.  (Goes to the door.  Opens it)  Hi, Jackie.        Cheer up, we've got some news for you.  Come in here.                          (She brings JACKIE in.  They sit down on bed.  BETSY joins them, right.)  We             have a plan to expose Professor James's grading! 


(They freeze in talking frame)


(End of scene one)





The setting is the same as scene one.  Pat is at her desk, writing.  Jackie knocks at door, excitedly.  Pat goes to open it.


JACKIE:       Guess what?  I got my paper back early.  I got a "D"                again!  I mean your paper did!

PAT:       Really.  (Takes paper and sits down at desk.  JACKIE follows to desk)  I              can't believe it!?  He really does think in categories.         Pat: "A".  Jackie: "D". This time, Pat "D".  What a              difference a name makes. And look.  He doesn't even say      why things are wrong!  He just underlines things and I'm      supposed to guess what they mean - I mean, you're              supposed to.  He just looks at the name and reacts                accordingly.

JACKIE:       I wonder what he'll do with your paper.  That is, my             paper of yours.

PAT:       There will be nothing on it but a "Good job.  Keep up the      good work.  B+, I'll bet.

BETSY       (Opens door and rushes in):  I've got our papers back. (To PAT)            I asked him to give me yours since we we're roommates.           Look, the one I wrote for you got an "A" - Note                     "Marvelous writing, keep it up."  What bunk!  And he's           been giving me D's right along.  Now look at the one you      wrote for me.  All underlined in red ink!  He really              just marks anything.  Doesn't make any sense.  And of              course, I get "D" again.

PAT:       When Jackie gets back "her" paper that she wrote for me,        we'll really have him - if he gives me an "A".

JACKIE:       Let's go to his office right now.  I'll bet he's finished      correcting "your" paper by now. - I mean, my paper.

PAT:       How much do you want to bet there are no corrections, no          underlines, and an "A"!?

Jackie:       I'll bet you a passing grade!


(They all laugh and exit)


End of scene two




The setting is Professor James's office.  His desk, behind which he is seated, is stage left, facing entrance, which is stage right.  The desk is piled high with papers. Professor James's head is between the two piles of papers.  He is asleep and snoring loudly.


The three women come to his office door and knock.  Silence, except for snoring.  They knock again, more loudly.  Still there is only snoring.  Finally, they bang on his door loudly and call:


PAT, BETSY and JACKIE  (Together): Professor James!  Professor                James!

PROFESSOR:(Raises head. Blinks)

WOMEN:       Professor James, are you there?

PROFESSOR     (Awake at last.  Straightening up):  Yes.  Yes. Come in.

WOMEN:       (Enter)

PAT:       We just happened to be passing your office, Professor                James, and I wondered whether you had finished correcting           my paper yet.

PROFESSOR:Oh, yes, Pat.  Sure have.  (Shuffles through papers) Here it is.         Looks like you got an A again as usual.  (Smiles. Hands paper                to her)

PAT:       (Taking paper) Thank you, sir.  (Looks at it)  Not any                  corrections, Professor James.

PROFESSOR:Not one.  Didn't need it.  (Smiles)

PAT:       Well.  I have a confession to make, sir.

PROFESSOR: What's that?

PAT:       This isn't really my paper.


PAT:       No.  It's Jackie's.  She wrote it for me to see whether        it would get an A.  (Takes out other paper)  And this one Betsy           wrote for me.  You gave it an "A as usual".

BETSY:       And ours --

JACKIE:       Which Pat wrote for us,

(BETSY and JACKIE together) got D's - as usual.

PAT:       How do you explain that, sir!?

PROFESSOR (Taken aback for a moment.  Then smiles): Oh, ho.  I suppose it               does seem confusing, doesn't it.  But it's just an old         pedagogical technique of mine.  You see (to BETSY and JACKIE)         both of you girls have real writing talent, which I want           to encourage.  I don't want you to get lax, loose, to                become unchallenged.  So - I have to grade your papers         more strictly than Pat's - whose writing, although good           and acceptable by a general standard - has nowhere near           the depth and creativity that your papers have revealed.           Your D's and D minuses are simply signs of my                  encouragement for you to work harder - to really refine         your skills.  Don't worry.  For the final grades, you'll         all be receiving A's, without a doubt.  (Smiles, compassionately)

BETSY:       Oh. Well.  Thank you, sir!

JACKIE:       Now we understand.  Thanks so much, sir.

PAT:       I'm glad we came to you first, sir.  Before going to the      dean.

PROFESSOR:(Still smiling) I'm glad you did.

WOMEN:       (Together) We'll be looking forward to the final.  Bye!


(They wave and go out of office.  Professor James stares after them for a moment)


PAT:       Well, if you can't beat'em, join them!

JACKIE       (To BETSY): Hello, Shakespeare!

Betsy       (To JACKIE): Likewise, Hemingway!  (They shake hands)


(The women laugh and exit.  PROFESSOR JAMES sits down, puts head back down on desk, and snores.)

















Test Time


Comprehension Questions


1.     Describe the characters.  What are their relationships with      one another?  What does each character want?


2.   What is the main idea of Professor James's argument as to      why he graded the girls’ papers the way he did?  Summarize      his argument.


3.   Do you think that Professor James is honest in his explanation    or do you think that he comes up with it "on the spot"?


4.   When Professor James corrects papers, he just underlines the areas that need work without comment.  Do you think this is   a good way to encourage student writing?  Why?  Why not?


5.   What do you think of Pat's plan to expose Professor James's      approach to grading?  Do you think it is appropriate for a      student to take action like this?  Do you think it is a      reasonable plan?


6.   In the end, they almost "blackmail" Professor James into      giving them all good final grades.  Do you think that this is      appropriate or should they report their experience with      Professor James to the dean?



Details, Details, Details


1.   Why is Betsy upset?


2.   Why does Betsy think that she doesn't get better grades?


3.   How does Pat intend to expose Professor James's grading?


4.   What grade does Professor James give the paper Pat wrote for      Betsy?  For Jackie?  The papers Jackie and Betsy wrote for      Pat?


5.   What is Professor James doing when Betsy, Pat, and Jackie come      to his office.





Who says it?  To whom?  About what or whom?  What does it mean in the context?


1.     "You're bound to improve."


2.     "Well, Professor James is just a hard grader, I guess."


3.   "I think he's prejudiced."


4.     "Well, remember he gave that so called "diagnostic" test the first day?"


5.   "I just zipped through that first composition without      thinking."


6.   "It's got her bugged."


7.   "Get it?"


8.   "He really does think in categories."


9.   "What bunk!"


10.  "I have a confession to make, sir."


11.  "But it's just an old pedagogical technique of mine."


12.  "I don't want you to get lax, loose, to become unchallenged."


13.     "Before going to the dean."


14.     "Hello, Shakespeare!"


15.     "Likewise, Hemingway!"



Practice the expressions above for stress and intonation.








Cultural Notes for Discussion: After the Reading


Discuss the following in small groups, then, report to the whole class.


1.   This play is about creating stereotypes.  How does Professor      James stereotype, and therefore discriminate, against Betsy?


2.   From reading the play and knowing Professor James's character,      what do you think is the reason for Professor James      stereotyping his students?


3.   The play is also about grades.  Do you think that hard work      and effort by a student should be reflected in his/her grade      or do you think that a student should be graded only on the      quality of the product produced by the student?


4.   Have you ever felt you were being stereotyped by others?       When?  Where?  What could you do about it?  Do you have      stereotypes of Americans?  Blacks?  Hispanics?  Gays?  Other      groups?  Why do you think you have these stereotypes?


5.   What do you believe is the best way to grade students?  What      things should be considered in grading?



Follow Up Activities


1.   Make 3 - 5 questions of your own about this play.


2.   Write a one-paragraph summary of the plot.  Use appropriate      tenses.


3.     Imagine that you are Pat telling the story of what happened to      a friend.  Tell the story using appropriate tenses.  The class      can offer help and corrections.