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Test Prep Terrors

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This post was originally published on the HS Bits Blog, which was active from 2008-2013.

I've come to expect them: the inevitable AP®-test-season nightmares that take me back to the exam-anxiety dreams of my own student days. Fortunately, I'm usually fully dressed in these more recent dreams. Still, they reveal the kind of anxiety that most teachers readying their students for the upcoming exams start to feel as test day approaches.


Image via Wikipedia

Last night's dream had me supervising my Language students in their mock exam, which is coming up next week. We were in the library, which had strangely transformed into an L-shape that prevented me from supervising both halves of the group at the same time. So I kept shuttling back and forth from one end of the room to the other, hopelessly trying to get the students to stop talking and to focus on the exam. On they blithely went, though, chatting up a storm, yet somehow, despite my exasperation, managing to work their way through the questions.

True to form, I woke before learning the outcome. But, although I'm not usually one to analyze my dreams, I did think about this one in an attempt to ease the anxiety I felt on waking. And I realized that what seemed like a nightmare actually reflected an important principle in preparing my students for the exam — a principle that, nonetheless, causes anxiety:

I've done my job. I've worked with my students all year, and now it's their turn to apply what they've learned. When they sit down in front of those booklets, there is nothing I can do that I have not already done to ensure their success, and I can't control the outcome; it's all up to them.

I learned this lesson not teaching AP®, but directing plays. By the time you reach dress rehearsal, any notes you give the actors and crew are pretty much academic, either reminding them of what they already know or encouraging them that they're ready. Or as ready as they'll ever be. You suppress the butterflies that threaten to convince you that they're not as ready as they should be. After all, what are you going to do, if something goes wrong on opening night — jump up on the stage and blurt out the missed lines or shove the uncooperative set piece out of the way?

By next week, my students will be as ready as they ever will be. I'll remind them of this fact. I'll encourage them to apply what they have been practicing all year. I'll probably still have nightmares, and I'll do my darnedest just to laugh at them (and I've had ones far more bizarre than last night's).

And then I'll take my place in the audience to see how it all plays out.

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