New Voices: “Calculus BC: Final Exam” by Abigail Hodge

January 9, 2015

We’re so pleased to publish “Calculus BC: Final Exam” by Abigail Hodge as a New Voices story. In this experimental piece, Hodge looks at the insecurities, pressures, and lifestyles of high school students through a calculus test. It’s a wonderful way of examining the consciousness of several characters, highlighting the ways in which they are all looking for happiness and fighting self loathing. Read the story (take the test!) below.

Businessman standing in front of board with formulas

Calculus BC: Final Exam (500 points)



A. Bathroom stall, six minutes until calculus. He uses his dad’s credit card to cut neat white lines on the copy of The Two Towers he stole from the library this morning. Don’t worry, he’ll give it back. He only has a few chapters left. A one dollar bill does the trick. (No need to show off inside a high school bathroom stall.) Teacher won’t notice, classmates won’t notice, friends won’t notice. No one cares what a genius does in his free time as long as he gets perfect scores and raises his hand before speaking.

B. Red Bull number seven on top of a caffeine pill. She knows the sugar is bad for her vocal cords, but the audition isn’t until tomorrow. Worry about exams today. Honey tea exists for a reason. She feels like puking, but can recite the entire study guide, equations and all. Something about being surrounded by effortless genius inspires her, even if she rots her teeth and has heart palpitations in the process.

C. Bathroom mirror, five minutes until she has to be in calculus. She touches up her lip gloss and smiles at her flawless reflection. She wants to be reviewing the second integration technique they learned last week, but she knows those aren’t the numbers most important in her life. Height, waist, bust, shoe size, dress size, ACT, SAT, GPA, calories consumed, miles run. Get those in order, then you can have fun with indefinite integrals and graphing limits.

D. They’re called boyfriend and girlfriend. They wait outside calculus class before it starts, perpetually bound by the same set of earbuds, listening to NPR and bands with names like “Psychic Teenagers” or “Neverland PD.” (“LOOK AT HOW INTERESTING WE ARE.”) They don’t speak about anything other than what Ira Glass tells them is topical, analyzing without context, creating pseudo-philosophies, running their brains on stationary bicycles. You would think they’re happy.

E. An elaborate setup: classroom door locked, lights turned off, cheap plastic fan oscillating, back door propped open with a broken desk, teacher sneaking a joint out back and grading quizzes. The only kids who might recognize the smell are the ones who understand enough to keep their mouths shut about it. He hasn’t been sober since second period. Advanced placement calculus is bearable; remedial trig and basic algebra are not. (He feels his soul wither every time someone asks for the Python-agon theorem.) Is this purgatory or hell?

F. All of the above.

To continue the test, click here.


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