Tag Archives: test anxiety

Do We Ever Really Leave High School?

Most grown ups harbor an inner teenager still struggling to make it in high school. Deep down – even as adults – we’re all a bit insecure, a bit awkward, and a bit worried about where, exactly, life will take us.

Among other things, it’s this inner-high-school universal which helps to explain the popularity of the hit television show Glee!.

It also explains my attitude towards taking the UK citizenship last week.

Let me preface this by saying that I am, by nature, one of those people who has recurrent dreams about test anxiety. I frequently dream that I’m back in high school – invariably in a Math class. I learn that there’s a test that very day, but I freak out because I haven’t been attending the class regularly or doing the homework.

The odd thing about this dream is that I’ve never been unprepared for a test in my life. But the anxiety is there, lurking just below the surface, just as it surely was in high school.

And so I studied my ass off for this thing. I read the five required chapters from the Life In The UK Handbook religiously. By the end of the first week, I could break down the British population by region, religion, ethnicity. The age at which can obtain a driver’s license for a medium-sized lorry (truck) vs. a large one? No problem. What makes the House of Commons different from the House of Lords? Easy peasy.

I went On line and took some 50 practice tests – none of which I came even close to failing – and then went back and re-read the fine print in the Life in the UK Handbook a few more times. Just, you know, for good measure.

Despite all of this preparation, when the test day rolled around, I was really anxious. I got to the test center early and waited for my husband (who, true to form, arrived on his bicycle with only a few minutes to spare and was still studying even as we registered with the immigration officials. Among other things, taking a test with your spouse also reinforces your central marital “ziplock” conflict.).

When we finally sat down to take the test, I breezed right through it. I was certain of 20 out of 24 of the questions, and took an educated guess on the other four. (You need to get 18 right to pass.) I completed the entire thing – including double and triple-checking my answers – in five minutes flat.

That’s right. Five minutes.

Needless to say, I passed. When I got the news from the immigration official, I was elated. Ridiculously, absurdly so. And *not*, I hasten to add, because I was that much closer to having permanent residency in the U.K.

Rather, my exuberance all stemmed from the challenge of having studied hard for a test and having aced it.

That said, because they don’t actually tell you how many – and which questions – you got wrong unless you fail, I couldn’t know for sure if I’d gotten 75% right or 100%. And damn it, I wanted to know!

So as soon as I got my result, I rushed back to my seat and poured over the Handbook to check all of my answers on the tricky questions. And every time I discovered that I’d answered one correctly, I pumped my fist in the air and let out a “Yesssssssssssssssssssss!”

My husband, who by now was in queue to get his own result, looked over at me at one point and asked, incredulously: “Is this how you were in high school?”

Sadly, yes. And I suspect that’s true for most of us. Whether it’s taking an important test or competing in a do-or-die football match or finally screwing up the courage to ask the girl you’ve had a crush on to Senior Prom, none of us ever fully escapes the clutches of high school.


And thank goodness for that. What on earth would I blog about?


Image: img057 by Haonavy via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

Tips For Adulthood: Five Telltale Dreams of Adulthood

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

Well, as long as everybody’s now talking about sleep as the next feminist issue, I thought I’d tap into what actually happens when most of us sleep: we dream.

Not all of us, I suppose. An old boyfriend of mine used to maintain that he dreamt mostly in images:  i.e., he’d be standing out in the middle of a field or perched atop a mountain. “Huh?” I thought. “You mean you don’t dream that someone’s chasing you around your kitchen table with a knife?”

Not only are my dreams hopelessly plot-driven and transparent, they are also recurrent. There are four or five dreams that I must have at least once a month, and every time, I wake up bathed in sweat. But once I began to reflect upon these dreams and analyze them more closely, I realized that they are all – in one way or another – telltale dreams of adulthood.

On the off-chance that you’ve had them – or similar recurrent dreams – I present them here so that we can all get a better handle on our collective demons:

1. Test Anxiety – I frequently dream that I’m back in High School – invariably in a Math class. I learn that there’s a test that very day, but I freak out because I haven’t been attending the class regularly or doing the homework. According to this list of top ten recurring dreams, dreams about “preparedness” are very common and signify – ding! – that you feel “lost or unprepared about something in your life.” Since I recently posted on why not being able to conceptualize  a “forever house” may be a sign that I still haven’t grown up, I think I’d have to say: Bingo.

2. Haven’t Learned The Lines – In a similar vein, I often dream that I’ve been cast for a part in a play but haven’t learned the lines. I did quite a bit of theatre as a child and there is a visceral, gut-level dread that comes with not knowing your lines. The odd thing about both this dream and #1 is that I’ve never been unprepared for a test in my life or failed to learn a set of lines I was given. Despite that, I clearly live my life fearing that I won’t one day be prepared for something. (This reminds me of a friend here in London who always shows up 5 minutes early to appointments because he’s afraid he’ll be late.) The moral of the story? Mastery doesn’t negate anxiety.

3. The Elevator Dream – No, this isn’t about being trapped in an elevator. It’s about getting in an elevator, pushing the button for a certain floor, and then having the elevator start moving in all sorts of directions, veering wildly from right to left, up and down…even diagonally. (And, yes, I have read Roald Dahl’s Charlie and The Great Glass Elevator.) I think that this is fundamentally a dream about goal-directedness, which strikes me as an apt thing for someone with a kaleidoscope career to worry about.

4. Naked in The Office – This is also apparently a very common dream and is thought to suggest a fear of public exposure. Since I blog about my personal life several times a week, I’m going to over-rule the experts and say that this is really a dream about legitimacy. When you work at home – as I do – you are wracked with worry that by not having the requisite water cooler, business card or Friday bagel brunch, you are somehow less legitimate as a professional. And *that* is the exposure which you fear will be revealed – that you’re really, deep down, a phony.

5. Childhood – I often dream that I’m back in my childhood, witnessing something that upsets me but which I am unable to stop because I am too small or too young or too afraid. I think this is fundamentally a dream about powerlessness, which is of course a central theme of adulthood.

Oh dear. I fear I’ve (once again) revealed a tad too much about my psyche. No matter. According to this study, dreams aren’t really about your psyche. They’re just exercise for your brain.

Phew. Boy, do I feel healthy now.

How about you? What are your recurrent dreams?


For those who are interested, yesterday I posted on PoliticsDaily.com about the on-going sexual scandal-cum-political crisis engulfing Northern Ireland.

Image: Elevator Buttons by Jaded One via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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