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Topic: Exams (07/26/04)
By Donny Kunzer
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To take the topic “exams” and begin to speak of life being a series of these sounded rather cliché to me, so I was a first hesitant to take up an “exams as life” analogy. Perhaps I find an aversion to the “life as a exams” metaphor because it always seems to introduce an element of heaviness into life, and after all, doesn’t my own and other people’s lives seem to be heavy enough as it is? I sit here and reflect on what I mean about this heaviness of exams though. I think way back, some 12 years now, to the ACT college entrance exams I was to take my senior year of high school. There was immense pressure in this testing, in that it was to determine the course of life for us taking it. This meant college or no college, affordability, even ego, status, intellect, and all those things so important to me as a self-absorbed human being. The anticipation of this test brought with it immense pressure, and its outcome seemed to determine whether or not I was worth something to the world or myself.
The morning of the test arrived and I woke early. I sat there at our family’s kitchen table and tensely looked over sheets of pre-prep ACT info our teacher had given us to pore over. I was trying to get myself as prepared as possible, and typical of my style, I had waited until the 12 o’clock hour to do so. Then the detrimental part to this story: Only days before I had heard of the added edge a bit of caffeine could add to a student’s recall when going into testing; that caffeine added noticeable few points to exam scores in study after study related to its usage among college students. So, though at the time I was but a senior in high school and hence not a very avid coffee drinker yet, I brewed a hearty dark roast and proceeded to consume approximately 3-4 cups of the stuff before heading in for one of my “life changing exams”.
Arriving at the exam location in our high school, on a Saturday no less, I struck up conversation with some of the students there to take the same exam. I had already become Mr. Hand Gestures and Facial Twitches as the caffeine had begun to add pressure to the coming standardized test. As 9 am rolled around, we were called into the testing room and before long, the series of exams were under way.
Immediately it became obvious how much harder I had made these exams for myself. I floundered and gyrated in my chair, my mind was the ecstatic state of a schizophrenic. Sweat formed on my brow, and my overly stimulated being grew to a crescendo. I raised my hand: “Mr. Hanson, sir, I really need to get out of here.”
“Sorry, son’, came the reply, “the time allotted is set, and you’ll have to stick it out until the next break”. I tried my hardest to do the best I could in the testing, the minutes seemed to grow into hours through high-strung java nerves.
“Time’s up for now!” Break time! I had survived my over stimulated condition, to make it to the first break. Out the door and to the restroom first (my other coffee drinking induced need). We had ten minutes to banter in the hallway and then set back in for another round of exams. My anxiety continued through the rest of the exams, the breaks never coming soon enough.
At the end of the ACT’s, I figured I might just hang it up. Several weeks later we got the results from the ACT exams. I was very nervous to see my results, but they weren’t all that bad. I had actually done pretty well and more than adequate to find myself in college less than a year later.
In the end I see my aversion to “life as a series of exams” as not so much that it is cliché, but rather that I don’t like to see how I myself make this whole “series of exams” heavier than they should be. I think that in waking up super early that morning to ingest massive amounts of coffee, I was looking, inappropriately, for an edge I felt I lacked within myself. Had I relaxed and trusted my own God-given abilities, I’d have found the whole thing less stressful and heavy. In the end it was relieving to find that grace had given me a passing grade anyway, despite how hard I had made the exams on myself.