Saturday, December 1, 2007

Midterm Gone Bad

November 29, 2007, was a lousy day. I did poorly, very poorly, on an exam in statistics. The damage to self-esteem was fairly deep. I'm not supposed to do poorly on any test, in any class.

I've seldom done well with written tests — it is painful to write for any length of time. As an undergraduate, I would write as much as I could before my hand and arm were too sore to continue. The alternative, and equally unsuccessful approach, was to write slowly. Either approach resulted in an incomplete test.

I was sure graduate school would be different. First, most classes don't have tests! This is a great thing, since papers and research projects seem a lot more meaningful. In my opinion, a timed test is more a test of dexterity than knowledge. The notion is that if a student knows the material well, he or she can quickly write answers or do the necessary calculations. What if you know the material but can't write? Timed tests prove nothing at all. My fear of tests has nothing to do with test anxiety, but the fear of being unable to write quickly enough leads to anxiety. How many jobs depend on writing quickly on paper with a pen or pencil? Why teachers think speed matters escapes me. I can appreciate a two-week deadline for a paper, but an hour to write all about a particular reading, event, theory, et cetera, is absurd.

I thought I knew the materials well enough that I could answer questions quickly enough to do okay. And yet, on the day of the test, I didn't even complete half the required questions. Here I am, in a graduate-level statistics course, unable to answer the questions in the allotted time. A topic I know, and one I should excel in when compared to "theory" courses, is proving difficult because of the tests!

Writing more than a line or two is always a task, and yet my journals are handwritten. I place an odd value on pen and paper, I admit. Anything that requires care and effort must be valuable.

At the moment, though, I despise how I write. I hate the pain, the discomfort, and the sensory challenges of writing. Letters need to be "just right" on the page, the right pen, the right paper, and the words themselves need to be right. My hand shakes, though, with my muscles twitching. Perfection is impossible, leading to yet more stress under pressure.

My grades shouldn't matter so much, since no one will care if I receive a single "B" mark as a graduate students. But my grades do matter to me. I want to be perfect, though I know I am not.

I don't ask for extra time, or alternative testing accommodations. Life doesn't make accommodations, even if schools do. I want to be the best following the same rules as everyone else. Admitting I need more time or different accommodations would be admitting that I cannot compete.

Having done poorly on this one test, I will have to do better on the final. I can still receive an "A" in the course and I plan to do all I can to earn that grade. I am not going to let myself be dragged down by my hand, my arm, my eyes, or anything else that is "me" — I am stronger than my body, or even my mind.

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