That final exam anxiety dream

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Marlene Cimons writes for the Washington Post about a recurring anxiety dream experienced by many, including yours truly:

For most people, including me, it goes like this: We’ve signed up for a course that we never attend, or we forget we enrolled in it. When final-exam day approaches, we are panic-stricken because we never went to any of the lectures, never took notes and never did the readings or assignments. (In one bizarre twist, some people report that they show up on final exam day naked — perhaps feeling vulnerable?)

For some, the course is one in which we did poorly in real life. Others dream of a subject in which they actually did well but had worried about failing.

She digs pretty deep into the commonality of this dream, interviewing therapists and others about why so many people continue to have it many years after their formal schooling ended.

My academic anxiety dream usually is situated in my final semester of college. It’s exam period, and — in keeping with the script! — I suddenly realize that I’m facing a final exam in a course I’ve never attended and for which I’ve never cracked open a book. Furthermore, it’s in a subject area in which I have no interest or aptitude.

Oh no, I’m screwed, I dream-speak to myself. I’ll flunk that course and have to take a summer school class in order to graduate. What will my parents say? And what will this do to my law school aspirations?! Maybe I calculated wrong and I really don’t need that class to graduate!

At some point I realize it’s a dream and will myself to wake up, but I’m a tad rattled until I confirm that all is ok.

The roots of my academic anxiety dreams have some basis in fact. I spent my final collegiate semester participating in Valparaiso University’s study abroad program in Cambridge, England. For some of us, including me, close proximity to one of the world’s greatest universities failed to inspire complete devotion to our studies. Although we were graded on essays rather than examinations, it’s fair to say that work on said written products often got left until the last minute.

In fact, one of my two phone calls home during that semester (remember, this is pre-cell phone 1981) came after our grades were reported. I wanted my parents to check my grade report — most notably because of a worrisome Art Appreciation class that I pretty much blew off completely — before I embarked on a post-semester romp through Western Europe. Fortunately my grades were pretty good, except for a barely passing grade in Art Appreciation. Phew…dodged that bullet!

It so happens that I’m writing this from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana. I have a fall semester research sabbatical from my home school (Suffolk University in Boston), and I’m spending part of it at VU as a scholar in residence, working on a book project. I’ll have more to say about this stay in my next blog post.

In the meantime, hopefully no academic anxiety dreams will be triggered by this visit.

One response

  1. I still have “the dream,” too. And, five years into retirement, I still have the one where it’s the first day of classes and I can’t find the classroom/don’t have the syllabus/forget to go to the first class session, etc.

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