O'Brien: Hello, and welcome to today's exciting show here on X-Net, where we bring you highlights from this week's Xtreme Grading Championships, an all-terrain multi-day solo event in which contestants must use their skills of reading, evaluation, and writing to overcome obstacles like late work, hand cramp, and sleep deprivation -- all in a race against the clock. I'm John O'Brien, sports commentator for X-Net, and with me here today to provide expert commentary is Professor Alberta Higginbotham of Snooty University. Tell us, Professor, what does it take to make it through this grading event?
Higginbotham: Well, John, a grader needs incisiveness, strength, and focus. In addition, a seasond grader knows how to pace himself -- when to relax and when to put on the pressure. One of the exciting things about these Xtreme Championships is that the organizers have built in certain obstacles into the event to add some extra challenges.
O'Brien: What kind of obstacles are these? Are they realistic?
Higginbotham: Oh yes, absolutely. For instance, take our lead contestant at the moment, Dr Mel Lastname. In Wednesday's round she faced a meandering committee meeting and a trip to the dentist, both of which take away valuable time from her grading progress. As a special Xtreme Twist, she also received a large nail in her car tire. She lost some points then, because she didn't have any student papers with her in her vehicle to grade while waiting to get the tire patched. A champion grader should never leave home or office without some undergraduate papers!
O'Brien: Our cameras are showing you clips of Dr. Mel as she was completing the dreaded 2 a.m. sprint, a required event for Xtreme competition. Note her judicious sips of tea and water in between pages that she's marking -- a hydration strategy that serves a dual purpose since her carefully timed bathroom breaks keep her alert and enhance blood circulation. Notice how she stretches her spine and cracks her neck each time she gets up from the couch.
Higginbotham: Physical condition is a hotly debated topic among Xtreme graders. Dr Mel keeps to a vigorous activity schedule and clean eating up until the actual days of the event. At that point she switches to mostly carbs and caffeine -- the plan tried and tested by legions of experienced grading competitors. Some believe that healthy eating before a competition helps the grader handle all the bagels and corn chips, while others work to build up their junk food endurance on a consistent basis, not just during events.
O'Brien: So the 2 a.m. sprint is one of the compulsory events. What are some of the optional events, and how are they scored?
Higginbotham: Competitors can be very creative with their optional events, trying to maximize their points, which they receive for speed, flair, and risk. Last year's champion, Gregor Vandinsky, won because of his two-handed grading method -- he'd mark two tests at once, one with each hand -- which impressed all the judges even though his speed scores were slower than others. Here are some clips of Dr Mel going for speed and risk bonus scores by doing a Beat the Clock penalty sprint. It's a risky event because she risks elimination from the finals if she miscalculates.
O'Brien: In Beat the Clock, a grader is pitted directly against the clock -- with potentially devastating consequences. Dr. Mel's students are seen here taking their final exam, which lasts up to 3 hours. Mel has 6 papers left to grade when the exam starts. So she has to correctly predict which of these 6 students whose papers remain in the pile will finish the exam first.
Higginbotham: It's a nail-biting event for sure -- performed in front of her students, which adds to the tension in the room. If she makes a mistake -- if a student finishes his exam before Mel's graded his paper -- she's out, disqualified from Xtreme competition for a whole academic year.
O'Brien: There's also an additional humiliation penalty. Look here, at the first student who finishes his exam. His paper is already graded, but you can tell Dr Mel is wondering if others will finish as early. She picks up her pace, moving at top grading speed.
* * * * commercials from Xtreme Grading's sponsors, Advil and Red Bull * * * *
O'Brien: Welcome back to the exciting conclusion of Thursday's Beat the Clock round as Dr Mel switches the order of the last two papers she has to grade. Only 15 students remain in the exam room.
Higginbotham: Notice, though, even under this pressure, she still writes a long paragraph of final comments on each essay. This is part of the form that judges are looking for.
O'Brien: Look at that! the switch was the right thing to do, as we see Student Amy come up to turn in her exam and get her paper back. Dr Mel sure loaded up the risk points with that last-minute move, didn't she!
Higginbotham: Absolutely, John, and that's what makes her such a favorite for this year's competition. She always finishes strong.
O'Brien: What's her strategy for the final days of the event?
Higginbotham: We've heard that she's probably going to go for the procrastination bonus, eschewing all grading over the weekend, and leaving this last stack of blue books all for Monday morning.
O'Brien: Whew! That's going to be some exciting Xtreme sportsmanship. Be sure to join us Monday night for highlights from that round -- as well as the new relay team race between Spreadsheeters, Calculators, and Pencillers as they rush to finish their final figuring of course grades and input them into the system. I'm John O'Brien, this is Professor Alberta Higginbotham, and this was XTREME GRADING -- only on X-Net.