Tests are no fun. Obviously. No one really like them. No one really enjoys them. Most straight hate them, in fact. Except…I never really did.
Cause – mostly – I just didn’t give a crap…
I was weird about tests.
I didn’t fear them.
I didn’t worry about them.
I didn’t hate them like most hated them.
I just didn’t think of them at all.
So I guess, in some way, the typical student reaction to tests kind of ummm…weirded me out.
In grade school…
…I was always in what were essentially advanced classes.
And in these classes I was surrounded by some of the most anal and obsessive people I had ever encountered; kids so consumed with their grades and pressured by everything – the expectations of their parents, the example of their siblings, the general “college is everything” norm of society – that each test was, to them, the end of the world.
“If I don’t get an A, my life is over! I’ll never get into ___ school!”
And so their grades became their obsession.
They’d write the teacher’s words down verbatim, as if they were the Lord’s or something. They’d email them constantly. They’d pepper them every day. They’d hound them before every class, after every class, and even during every class, about every wrong answer or partial credit given them on every assignment and exam.
And I guess they were supposed to.
They were supposed to do whatever it is they needed to do to do better, to improve, to learn.
It was a good thing.
But, it was just how they did it that so weirded me out – that seemed so ridiculous, so crazy, so unnecessary.
The frustration in their faces as teacher explained why he had marked them down for something, or only partially right on whatever.
The eagerness to find the smallest flaw in their marks, or unfairness.
The desperation for a single point here or there.
It was their “all or nothing” mentality – as if this grade were the end, as if this grade decided their fate, as if they NEEDED this certain grade, not just as means to goal, but as they need oxygen, water, or food.
And then they’d show up on test day all jittery and nervous. All horrified and scared.
Twitching. Tapping. Mumbling to themselves.
They’d be handed the test and immediately they’d write down the vast system of memorization techniques they had prepared just for that exam.
Acronyms. Little songs. All the little things they had taught themselves to teach themselves.
Before they forgot it, I suppose. Before the information was lost in their minds amongst the sea of facts, figures, and formulas they had poured in for weeks on end.
And when they’d come upon a question they didn’t know or couldn’t figure, they’d sit there…staring…agonizing…or 30 seconds, 30 minutes, as if hoping or waiting for God himself (or whatever Lord of Tests they prayed to) to divinely help them remember whatever random fact or formula they had forgotten, or never really learned in the first place.
When the test was over they’d either look around all smug-like or get all disappointed and pissed.
Then would come the typical and predictable questions, as they turned to every person around them.
Man I hated these….
“How’d you do!? How’d you do!? What about question 7? What’d you do for 35? Oh man, can you believe the essay question?”
What the fuck?
And when the tests were graded and handed back, these people would pour over every answer and every mark, desperate to find some place or some way they were wronged or the teacher mistaken so that they could complain, and argue, and maybe…just maybe…get their grade raised a point, or a fraction of a point, and thus their life back in order and their dreams back on track. And the looong line for the teacher’s time and attention would begin.
“But what about this…?”
“But you said this….?”
They’d stand there arguing for 15 minutes over single points – as if Edison would not have been Edison had he missed a point on whatever test in 10th grade or something.
I was kinda, maybe, a little like that…
…in my youngest years, in that I too stressed exams and got a bit nervous or scared or whatever, but really…my grades never meant to me what they meant to them.
I never perceived them as a measure of who I was or the intelligence I had. I never thought I was any dumber than any other because I had less smiley faces or stickers; more red ink, or a lesser letter.
But around halfway through high school, even THAT small similarity disappeared between us. Because – I don’t know why – but I just stopped caring. Not about learning, or studying, or doing my best. But I stopped caring about the grades themselves. I stopped caring about the red letter in the upper corner of my work. I stopped caring what number that work was assigned.
In fact, I stopped looking at them entirely.
People were always shocked when I told them this, but around midway through high school I stopped looking at my grades. Literally. I never looked at them. Ever.
I would check my final grade for the class, of course, but honestly, sometime in college, I stopped doing even that.
I just grabbed the test and shoved it in my backpack. When I got home I pulled it out – eye’s closed – and put it away.
People didn’t understand it, but to me, either I did well on the exam or I didn’t. If I had done well, then I didn’t need to look. And if I hadn’t, then, well…I didn’t want to.
Either way I was okay. Either way I refused to let it get me angry.
Because I didn’t need a letter or number on my work to know (generally) how I was doing or what I needed to improve on, what I knew and what I didn’t.
Either way it didn’t help my stresses to look. Either way it wouldn’t change the grade I received, or my knowledge of the subject. Either way it wouldn’t make the past alterable; that I could go back, and study this part a tiny more, or that part a little less.
Mostly I just found that it pissed me off; that it angered me; that it was like a lot of little cuts – things I could have done differently, better, more efficiently.
And so I didn’t look. Didn’t wanna look.
I had already moved on, already moved passed.
My concern for the next test began the moment I put the last test on the teacher’s desk. And whatever grade that test brought I did…not…care. My grade was already decided; my fate already sealed, the moment I turned in that test.
I was done worrying about it, then.
Done thinking about it.
I was done with it.
I didn’t care because…
…that stuff didn’t affect me. It wasn’t everything to me, as it was to so many others around me in those years.
The end of the world didn’t come every two weeks on exam day. The sky didn’t fall every year around midterms. It didn’t rain fire and ash at finals.
They were just tests. Just paper with questions on it.
And whatever questions were on that test, either I was prepared or I wasn’t. Either I had done all I could or I hadn’t. Either I would be proud of myself and my work, or I wouldn’t.
But at that point there was nothing more I could do. and no one else that could help me.
Worrying wouldn’t help.
Anxiety wouldn’t help.
Crucifying myself over a stupid fucking test would not help.
My grade was determined before I put pencil to paper – in what I had done, in how I had prepared, in the actions I had taken.
The exam wasn’t the test.
The preparation was the test.
…probably my system wasn’t the best way.
I never raised a hand. Never asked a question. Never bothered my teachers about my exams or my essays. I was too shy back then to do any of that.
That stuff scared me far more than any test, unfortunately.
So do all of it if you feel you need to.
But remember, that when it comes to your efforts and your results, one you control and one you do not. One is worth your concern and one is not. One is actually representative of who you are and one will never be.
Those kids in those classes thought their grades determined their future; that in the A’s and B’s their teacher gave them was all they could and would accomplish in life.
But effort is a far more predictive measure of success in life than any red mark on a paper from high school.
I promise you.
I can’t number the thousands of grades I amassed in grade school and college. I can’t count the essays I wrote and bubbles I filled in. But, I can tell you that none matter now; that no single one prevented any thing I have done or may still do in life, nor opened any possibility that I could not have opened myself by some other way.
They are all meaningless now.
They’re just grades, after all. Just letters and numbers on paper, according to some scale some politicians determined and a teacher I don’t remember, compared against students I no longer see, nor talk to, nor particularly care about.
All that’s left after all these years is me and my efforts, my will and my determination, my trust in myself above all else.
That’s all there ever was and all there ever will be.
And your tests don’t determine that, and your worrying doesn’t help it.
So, test anxiety?
Fuck it. Forget it. Lose it.
It’s called the “I don’t give a crap” method, and I’d be willing to bet that without that fear, that concern, that worry, you’ll do a lot better, you’ll learn a lot more, and your red letters will improve.
Comment and share below. This part is graded.