Ponder this:

Saturday, February 7, 2009


I took the civil service exam today for the fallback job should mine own be abolished by the Great Fish of Our Small Pond. Anybody who can take that exam and do well enough to get a job out of it ought to be entitled to higher pay than the job brings.

It was full of questions like:
If a seventeen pound bag of dog food costs $14.92 and holds 936,351 pieces of kibble and an owner feeds his dog six ounces in each serving twice a day, how many days can the dog eat if the owner has $57.33?

No calculators were allowed in this exam.

Well, sure I could figure it out.

But not without flashbacks to my father trying to guide me through long division homework. I would be in tears of frustration and he would grow ever more forcefully patient as if to will the understanding into my brain.

And not without ‘wayyyy more of the pretty orchid scratch paper.

And maybe an abacus and a slide rule.

It occurred to me that instead of the orchid color scratch paper they gave us to work on, I would have done better with graph paper. All my columns were all squinched up and as the rows of numbers went lower and lower in the long division, the figures grew smaller and more misshapen. They looked exactly like the numbers on my third grade homework.

When the proctor came to collect my papers she looked over my scratch papers, both of them, all six sides of each one scrawled with numbers lined up and added, subtracted, multiplied and divided in every direction. I felt as if I were handing over a Rorschach test of my arithmetic psyche…a nest of ciphering reminiscent of A Beautiful Mind.

I sure hope if I get a job offer from this, it's for a job where they'd give me a machine that can carry out numbers to five decimal points.


Carolynn Anctil said...

Are you kidding me?! I hated those questions when I was in school. I think it's those very questions that taught me to believe I was not a numbers person and basically stupid in math. It took a few decades of living in the real world to realize that I am, in fact, not stupid and can manage quite nicely, thank you very much. I think those questions were thought up by the Marquee de Sade, personally.

Good for you for taking the exam and best of luck getting a new & higher paying job!

June said...

Thanks for the good wishes, but this particular job description (and pay), in effect, would be a demotion. It certainly makes me see "account clerks" with new eyes, however!

Mary said...

Thank you for dropping in and leaving the kind comment. Your illustration reminds me that I always felt I wasn't good at math, but really I usually am at practical uses.

Anonymous said...

I came to your site via We Three Ginger Cats Tales. This post made me laugh, as one of my colleagues' grandaughters has just moved with her family from the UK to the US, and is experiencing difficulties changing from Metric to Imperial measures. It took 5 ladies of a certain age in the staffroom to solve this problem, but we managed it without resorting to long division:
1. Ignore info not required (No. of kibbles)
2. How many bags can he afford? 4X $14.92 is more that he has available, so he can afford 3 bags.
3. 3bags X 17lbs is 51 lbs altogether
4. 51lbs X 16 ozs is 816 ozs dogfood available
5. 816 divided by 6 ozs (one meal) is 136 meals available
6. 136 meals divided by 2(meals per day) is 68
So, he could feed his dog for 68 days.
Hope you keep your job, or at least get a promotion.
Best wishes from the UK

June said...

TT of the UK, please consider this an invitation to consult when next I take an "account clerk" exam. Maybe if I explain that you all are houseguests they'll let me take you in with me. After all, the notice said "No calculators," not "No consultants."