How I Ruined Extra Credit
By Marla J. Bingcang
This piece (a now-defunct Common App response) describes how the encouragement of one teacher sparked my passion for writing.
The first thing my father said to me, when the nurse laid me in his arms, was “Dammit, Sheila. How am I going to pay for this?”
These are, more or less, the opening lines to a short story I wrote in the seventh grade. The assignment was “explain the carbon cycle.”
So, from my father’s breath, Craige the Carbon Atom was born. The original copy of the story is long gone, and the exact sequence of events evades me—like a traumatic memory I’ve long repressed—but I do remember that at one point, Craige was consumed by a horse. Then Craige fell in love with Horse. Then Horse visited a glue factory and defecated Craige into the atmosphere. I did not shower the night I wrote it.
Sleep-deprived, greasy, and avoiding eye-contact, I dropped this magnum opus on Ms. Schmidt’s desk. When she returned my paper the next day, I received something like a nine out of seven.
Nine? Out of seven?
“Ms. Schmidt, there’s no shame in taking supplementary math classes.”
She pushed my paper back at me. I saw she had drawn a smiley face over my grade. “No, there’s no mistake,” she said. “It looks like you put a lot of effort into it, and it seems like you had fun. I thought your grade should reflect that.”
Effort. Fun. A system I could abuse?
It was a science class, so here was my hypothesis: the quantity of “effort” and “fun” was directly related to the likelihood of receiving extra credit. An experiment was in order. The next time I received an explanation assignment, I went home and wrote until my hand cramped, an epic retelling of a secret agent breaching the cell membrane. I revised it several times. The day after: extra credit. I repeated the experiment with the next assignment. Extra credit. Then again. The results seemed conclusive.
I posed a new hypothesis. Would applying “effort” and “fun” to other classes produce similar results?
Ms. Schmidt must have been an outlier. And for some reason, I just couldn’t scrape together the same greasy enthusiasm for math homework as I could for writing about glue-horses. Ms. Schmidt had Pavlov’d me. I continued to handle all my writing assignments like they were the flimsiest of eggshells hiding golden extra credit in themselves—even if most of them were utterly hollow. But I didn’t care about whether or not I received extra credit anymore. Extra credit, I declared, was for tryhards!
After school, I raked the internet for writing advice. I copied passages from books that left me smitten, desperately trying to understand just how an author could do that. How one structured their ideas so that the fantastical made sense, and how another could weave together an atmosphere that breathed like a memory unearthed. I wrote sixty-seven pages of an unfinished manuscript. I wolfed down author biographies. I created a folder called “grammar” on my school Chromebook.
Hold it—did you say Ms. Canary awards extra credit when you correct her grammar?
The following year, I was delivered into 8th grade on a solid gold palanquin. I killed three students with the sheer force of my gaze. Why yes, sir, I did receive a 103% in Science and English, why do you ask? At lunch, my peasant classmates delivered a message: teachers may no longer award extra credit. “Weep!” I screeched, beating my messenger with an ivory scepter. “Weep!”
I was told that when writing a college essay, it’s important to tell a story. Not only that, but the essay isn’t there as a medium to brag about one’s achievements, rather, it’s there to show the admission officer the applicant’s personality, their passions, and their skill. Bringing these together, I decided I would tell the story of how I came to love writing, and how praise from others encouraged me and swelled my pride.
Marla Bingcang, class of 2023, chained and locked to the Chicagoland Area, is proud to say that she can read. She can also hold a pen, in a very similar way to how a squid would. When she isn't writing, she likes to sacrifice her spine to the Lord of Computer Games. (He can never be satisfied.)