Good Luck Bonkyhead! … some thoughts on surviving exams
Life has always offered very difficult tests. Illnesses, losing friends, stormy weather, jerks pulling your tail… all these test your faith, your attitude, even your physical powers. But humans have a special ability to create other kinds of tests, that sometimes seem designed only to create stress. When you go to the doctor, you get poked and prodded and punctured, just so that super-educated adult can confirm that you have a sore throat, which you already told her. If a kid wants to get on a sports team, hoping to improve their health, they get tested to see if they’re skilled enough to be included. And of course, in schools, we always get tested, over and over and over again, to see if we’ve learned enough to be taught more, so we can be tested again!
Did you notice the word “we” up there? Oh yeah, I’m including us dogs all right! Did you think humans only tested humans? Every obedience class I’ve ever had, it’s always “Does Shirelle know what ‘heel’ means yet? Can she stay long enough? Does she shake hands with the correct paw?” So I know this pain, believe me!
I suppose it all makes sense, when you figure that our doctors, coaches, and teachers really don’t have any other way of finding out how to work with us than to do all this testing. But even so, it sure does get annoying!
So I’ve been sniffing around, trying to find out some ideas on how to make taking tests a little less stressful. Here are a few:
1) Try to Do Your Best, Without Caring Too Much. I had some friends in an acting class. A really nice group, and of course all of them wanted to become stars of movies and TV. Well, all but one. There was one guy in there who only wanted to learn about acting so he could become a better director. The class went on for two years, and everyone in it learned a lot, and some of them became really amazing actors. Of course, that one guy never did, but that was okay, and everyone enjoyed having him around since he was nice and helpful (and might someday hire them). Well, the night came for their big graduation, when they all performed scenes and monologues for an audience of judges. Everyone was nervous and did their best, but when it was over, the unanimous declaration was that the best performance of the night was… that guy. Why? He wasn’t the best actor there. But he was the only one who went into the event unafraid of being judged. He knew he wasn’t very good, so he was able to relax and be the best! (On a similar note, I’ve heard the great actor Al Pacino said once that he never does auditions. “I just get chances to act. Sometimes they’re in front of a big audience; sometimes they’re just in front of a casting director. But either way, I’m just getting another chance to act.”)
2) Hating the Test Doesn’t Help. Another person I knew had to take some really horrible exams for his job. The questions were badly written, and the answer choices often made no sense. He resented having to take these tests, and was peeved about the fact that people stupid enough to write these questions were judging him. He grumbled and complained and moaned all through the process. And it was only after he’d failed one of the exams that a person who’d been studying with him told him that she had stopped working with him because of his negative attitude. “I know the test is stupid, but I had to keep myself from thinking about that. You were bringing me down.” He realized she was right, but was then stuck with how he could re-take the exam without those peevish feelings. Eventually he came up with an answer: once he’d passed it, he’d work to rewrite the test so it wouldn’t be so dumb in the future! (There’s an even cooler solution in the movie Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, but I won’t give that away here!)
3) Try to Make the Test Fun. Next time you have a test coming up, look at what you’re doing when you’re not studying. Are you playing games or sports? Are you doing crossword puzzles, or phone games like Words With Friends or DoodleJump? Do you realize that all of these are tests?! They’re just fun ones, that you choose to do, instead of something a teacher or school board is demanding of you. Can you manage to look on the test as actually fun too? “How many dates from the Peloponnesian Wars can I memorize tonight?” “How complex an Algebra question can I handle?” “How much French can I understand?” When you think about it, the only difference between a school test and a fun activity is how you look at it. (Of course, it helps when you get rewarded and not punished. I liked obedience class, if the teacher gave me lots of treats and never jerked my choke collar. It was the not-so-nice times I really disliked. And I know lots of schools are like that.)
4) Try to Read Their Minds. What makes some tests fair and good, and others really dumb, is whether the student can understand what the examiner is looking for. If I’m in an obedience trial, and the tester is giving me hand signals, and I’ve never learned hand signals, then I don’t know whether she wants me to sit or stay or twirl on my front paws. That doesn’t mean I haven’t learned what I was supposed to; it’s that she isn’t being clear with me. Similarly, if you get asked something dopey like “What’s the notable characteristic of rabbits” and you answer “long ears,” but the examiner wants you to talk about the way they hop, your answer will be counted as wrong when you were absolutely right. So with tests like this, your job is to try to read the minds of the people who wrote them. “Hmmm…,” you might think, for example, “the cotton-tails are cute and unique, but since this class has mostly been about modes of transportation, they’re probably thinking about the amazing jumps.” You might still be counted as wrong, but at least it’ll improve your chances.
5) Know You’ll Live Through It. In history, there have been awful times when people were actually asked questions where, if they gave the wrong answer, they were put to death. I can almost guarantee that that won’t happen to you. But I’m pretty sure I can guarantee that it’ll never happen with a school test anyway. So as you walk in to that exam that will determine whether you pass the course, whether you graduate, whether you get licensed to practice your career… or even just determine whether you get a pat on the head and a kiss from your best friend… just remember: You’ll live, no matter what. Maybe you’ll have to retake a class. Maybe you’ll have to retake a whole year. Maybe you’ll just have to take the stupid rotten litter-box-stinking test again. But you will move on, no matter what. Do you know the old disco song “I Will Survive?” Not a bad idea to hum that to yourself as you pick up your pencil, prepare for your entrance, or pick up your ears and try to remember what the word “Down” means to do: “I, I will survive! As long as I know how to love I know I’ll stay alive!” And you will.
And who knows? If you can do all these, even partly, maybe you’ll do more than survive. Maybe you’ll pass, or even pass with honors. And you’ll win recognition and acclaim and a great career… and, best of all… you’ll never have to take that crazy test ever ever EVER again!!!