EN ROUTE TO GEORGE Washington University's Funger Hall shortly after dawn on a Saturday, I turned my headlights on to pierce the gloom. I was anxiously joining more than 900 area aspirants to higher education in taking the Graduate Record Examination, better known as the GRE.

Four and a half hours later, No. 2 pencils ground to stubs, I found my headlights "on" and my battery dead. So I called the American Automobile Association from a pay phone, described my location and began waiting for a truck to arrive in the promised 20 to 90 minutes.

I read this paper. Twice. Still no triple-A. The rain had stopped so I stretched my feet out the curbside door. A second pair of feet appeared.

"My battery's dead. Could you give me a jump?" a young man asked.

His car was directly across the street. He too had left his headlights on. I looked at him closely. "Weren't you just in the test?" He was. In fact, out of about 300 taking the test in Funger Hall, he had been sitting next to me.

We resumed waiting -- he for a friend and I for the AAA, hard upon its 90-minute limit. His friend came first, in a car too small to jump mine. But two women from a nearby parking lot asked to borrow his friend's cables: "We both left our headlights on during the test," they explained sheepishly.

I called AAA again only to hear that the truck allegedly had come and, not finding me, gone, and I had to wait another 20 to 90 minutes. So I tried resorting to the kindness of strangers and can now report, based on my comprehensive survey that day, that of the 10 percent of Americans who carry jumper cables, half loaned them to a friend and the remainder live outside the Beltway.

I came to be assisted in this research by a sympathetic prospective law student with a battery full of electricity but no way of sharing it. He yelled up to several friends' apartment windows seeking help before remembering to ask what had happened to my battery.

Embarrassed, I told him.

"Oh, that's nothing," he answered. "Last year when I took the LSATs, it was pouring rain and I left all my car windows open!"