The $500 Pencil Sharpener (or: A Tale of Two Board Exams)
Many years ago I took my first Family Practice Board exam.
Imagine a hotel ballroom filled with tables set up in rows and columns, two people per table. Probably 1000 people all together. I remembered to bring my admission ticket and photo ID, as directed. I remember wondering whether or not to bring my own #2 pencils (this was 1989 and we did in fact record our answers on computerized answer sheets with #2 pencils.) Although I did decide to bring them, I was pleasantly surprised to find that they supplied them.
And what nice #2 pencils they were, too. White, with green lettering spelling out "American Board of Family Practice." Very nice pencils.
I passed the exam, went out and started practicing.
Time passed, as time is wont to do, and six years later it was time for my first re-certification. (The certificate was actually good for seven years, but it was considered a good idea to leave a year's cushion in case of failure, illness, or whatever.) It cost $500 to take the exam, so I sent off the check with my registration and cleared my appointment book for the appointed day.
I remembered the pencils, and didn't bother taking my own this time.
Same hotel ballroom. Same tables. Same 1000 people. But this time the pencils they passed out along with the test booklets and answer sheets were crappy plain yellow ones. Not only that, but they had those little bitty points you see on golf pencils. No way even two of these cruddy pencils were going to suffice for a six hour exam!
But then, plodding along behind the ID-checker lady and the answer-sheet and pencil-hander-outer guy was another lady carrying a large plastic bag, stopping at each board taker and handing over something from the bag. When she stopped in front of me, she dropped a white plastic miniature-pencil-shaped pencil sharpener; the kind you'd see in a kid's birthday party goodie bag. WTF? That's right. That's how they expected us to get through a six hour exam with those crappy little golf-pointed pencils.
When all materials were handed out, another lady mounted the podium set up in the front of the ballroom to give us directions. You know, the "You'll-have-two-hours-for-the-first-book, yadda yadda yadda" and "Don't even try to cheat" talk. The standard verbiage included the following standard warning:
No testing materials are to be taken from the room.At this point, she stopped reading and looked up at us. In a tone that can only be described as sheepish, she added,
You can keep the pencil sharpeners.I have it to this day: my $500 pencil sharpener.