Shaken, Not Stirred
I mentioned a couple months ago that I’m in the process of taking a class that could potentially have huge (and awesome) repercussions for my life. I completed the coursework over the winter break and scheduled the final exam for the end of January.
I felt confident.
I have an image of myself as a good student, built up over a lifetime’s worth of data points. I generally do well at school, scoring at the top in my class and passing tests with near perfect scores. It’s not as good as it sounds. Yes, that ability makes school easy, but I don’t always do so well with the real life application where success is more about taking risks than memorizing facts. In other words, you want me on your team for Trivial Pursuit but you may not want me by your side if we have to build a survival shelter.
Regardless, I felt comfortable going into the final exam. I was consistently making high As on my practice tests and knew the material in the textbook. I was nervous, sure, but I just reminded myself of all of the times I was nervous before a test and walked out smiling.
I turned on my computer and my volunteer proctor opened the exam file for me. The first few questions were easy. They were either exactly the same as some of the course and test preparation material or closely related.
And then came number 7. A few short sentences that failed to trigger any recognition in my brain. I searched my memory files frantically, looking for any clues that could help me with this question. There were none.
By the end of the 150 question exam, I estimated that a full third of the questions were not addressed in the textbook or highlighted in the course materials. I was nervous.
Steeling myself, I clicked submit.
The little wheel seemed to turn endlessly. Finally,
“Congratulations. You passed.”
My first thought? Relief. That hoop was successfully jumped.
My second thought? 77?? I haven’t scored that low on any exam since algebra II in 10th grade (yes, and now I teach math. I know!).
If that was the end of it, I would be okay. After all, in the real world, scores don’t matter. Just the end result.
But it’s not the end of it.
Now, I have to take the state exam.
Normally, I would just see it as another hoop.
But now my confidence is shaken. My internal narrative that paints myself as a good student and test taker is being questioned due to that single data point.
It’s interesting how much we struggle when our self-image is called into question. When I fell repeatedly while skiing this winter, it didn’t cause my confidence to stumble because I have never formed a picture of myself as a skier. Yet one metaphorical fall on a test, and everything is called into question.
The state exam is in three weeks. I borrowed an additional book to help me prepare. I have scheduled study times on certain days leading up to the exam. I have the website of a cram course cued in case of emergency. I’ve verified the suitability of my calculator and checked to see what forms of identification are required.
Everything is in place to make sure I know the material and can meet the testing requirements.
But I’m still shaken.To those around me, I’ve laughed it off. Pretended it didn’t bother me.
But it does.
One of the lasting side effects of betrayal is that you don’t always trust your ability to interpret data points accurately. I want to dismiss this score as an an outlier, but I don’t know if that’s accurate.
So preparation for this exam is twofold: study my butt off and work to rebuild my confidence.
I’m shaken, but I’ll be damned if I’m going to let it stir me.