Test Anxiety

submitThere are a few things in life that hinge on a test score. A drivers license, college admissions, and professional certifications. Preparing for any of these may require months of study and practice, and if you’ve worked hard, you pass. And sometimes you have to take the tests again, and again.

Maybe because tests are a shared experience, we love to complain about them. “I’m not a good test taker,” or “I don’t test well,” some say. I never felt that way, but over the years, I’ve come to doubt if my achievement in school was as much the result of my ability to take a test, as it was to actually have a command of the material. Supposedly girls do better in school because we are able to sit still for extended periods, and we thrive in a structured environment. I guess that was me. I liked reading and doing my homework. I studied hard because I was supposed to, and I wanted to do well.

When it came time to take the SAT and ACT, I considered these tests as a measurement of my cumulative school experience, not something I could study for all over again. So I took them cold, and I did fine. Years later when my kids faced these tests, I wasn’t quite so confident, and wondered if a prep course would be required to assure they’d stand out from their peers.

In my professional life, past academic achievement has never been a sure indicator of success. I admit, I was surprised to discover that some of the best people I worked with were high school graduates, or had gone to a college that wasn’t on the US News Best Colleges list. And yet they were great at their jobs. I saw that learning doesn’t stop on graduation day. Jobs require additional knowledge, and they also evolve and demand continued growth. Marketing, for example, has changed dramatically, and I’ve had to throw myself into new technologies to remain a valuable, contributing team member.

Now I’m in a new role that requires some specific licenses. I was excited when my study materials arrived, and eagerly started highlighting the important concepts and facts. My coworkers have warned me that I need to study hard to ensure I get a passing score. I’m not intimidated. I know what to do. I’ve taken all of the sample tests, and drilled with my homemade flashcards. I feel solid.

The testing center has tighter security than the airport. I can’t even bring in a tissue for my runny nose. The online assessment has 100 multiple-choice questions. I read each question carefully and select the answers I think are correct. The Submit button glows at the bottom of the screen. Is it an action or a command? I hold my breath and click. After an agonizing 15 seconds my score is displayed.

Time Capsule

img_1999I’m dusting the high reaches of the book shelves, wondering how many weeks it takes for it to resemble the stacks of an abandoned library, when I find an old jar. Probably a former home for pickles, this unassuming jar is stuffed full of bits of faded, multi-colored paper. Most are stacked so they cannot be read, but two face outward: The Police. Apparently, I saw them twice, though I have the most vivid memory of the second time, the Synchronicity tour. I ran squealing to tell my friend we’d managed to get tickets and we didn’t mind driving 90 minutes round trip on a work night either.

I twist off the lid and poke through the ticket stubs. The larger ones are concerts: Bruce Springsteen, The Beach Boys, Chuck Mangione, Neil Diamond (OK that one was with my dad), Judy Collins, James Taylor, Kenny Loggins, Billy Joel, John Denver, Chicago, Prince. And my most prized concert ticket: Paul McCartney and Wings. Some are more classical fare: the orchestra, a surprising number of ballets, and an off Broadway show. There are stubs from high school and college games with scores written on them.

But most of the ticket stubs are from movies. I’ve scribbled notes on each with the title, the date, and who I went with. Some of the stubs show the price: $1.75, $3.90, $1.50, $4.00. Most are movies I remember (Return of the Jedi, Body Heat), and the people I went with include my brother (a lot), girl friends, high school boy friends, friends I reconnected with after college, and a few boys I don’t remember at all. Double dates, groups, movies with my family. Clearly, movie-going was the dominant entertainment in my teens and twenties. French movies, Hitchcock movies, all the Star Wars movies, and Rocky Horror Picture Show (I wrote “4th time!” on the stub).

After going through the entire jar, some of these ticket stubs stand out:

  • The World Trade Center Observation Deck
  • Deliverance: this was a first date (yes it was)
  • Movie dates with my soon to be husband
  • Rocky: saw it with my brother, my mom and my grandmother; during the climactic fight scene, I noticed that my gramma had fallen asleep.
  • My first concert: Bobby Sherman (that was with you, Nancy!)
  • Derby Day 5/4/74

This jar is a relic of a by-gone time. Before video tapes, DVRs, on-demand streaming entertainment, and print-at-home tickets; a time capsule of my life between 1972 and 1986. Whew! I screw the lid back on and return to the present.

Eye on the ball

pingpongTik, tik, tik. I’m able to make contact with the small ball for three shots and then …whiff… I miss and the ball goes bouncing across the room. I turn to retrieve it but my opponent is already serving. Zip! It goes past my ear. Playing ping pong is kind of surreal. The ball moves so dramatically – and for me – unpredictably. The lightest touch with the paddle produces a seemingly disproportionate response. I want to blame physics, but it’s poor hand-eye coordination and a backhand that’s more like flailing.

I can’t remember the last time I played ping pong, but I remember learning to play tennis in college. It was the first time I’d picked up a racket, and I enjoyed learning the basics. Serving, returning a serve, running all over the court to try to be where the ball would be, staying in the lines. In class we almost always played doubles (lots of people, limited court space), and the game seems somewhat easier that way as we each had less space to cover. Emboldened, I tried to keep playing once I was home for the summer, but it was hard to find a consistently available partner on a weeknight, and also find an open court somewhere in the park. I’m sure I improved my ability to make contact with the ball and get it over the net, but I was never so committed that I bought any special tennis clothes.

That was about the time that running was getting popular. Maybe I was attracted because it seemed achievable, being able to set your own pace and distance. I also liked it because I didn’t have to hit a ball. I could throw on shorts and a shirt, and feel satisfied to make it back home in 30 minutes, all sweaty.  The only thing requiring hand-eye coordination was getting a cup of water to your mouth during a race, but if you spilled some, it still seemed like it could have been on purpose.

I can eat without missing my mouth, but smacking a ball and actually directing where it will go seems like a kind of magic. Athletes make it look easy. Three-point shots from mid-court, long football passes, baseballs over the walls of the ballpark. These aren’t flukes, but the result of hours and days and years of practice. Ultimately, I don’t think it’s important enough to put in the hours to win at ping pong. It’s fun to play for a while, and I don’t mind “letting” the other guy win.

Dear Reader

screen-shot-2017-02-05-at-11-56-44-amWhen I first thought of writing a blog, I was a little tentative about posting it online. I mean, if we are supposed to think of email as a postcard that anyone could potentially read, posting something online would be like sticking my head out of the window and shouting at the world: “Hello! This is me! Read this!” Or so I thought. Turns out the internet is a big place, and finding things is an art. Keywords, Boolean operators, tags – all meant to help us locate a needle in the haystack. And if you aren’t properly indexed or search engine optimized, you’re as good as nonexistent. Where’s the best place to hide a dead body? On the second page of Google. And I’m not even on the second page.

In the early days, I posted my blog entries and no one saw them. That was OK because I was getting comfortable, finding my voice, wondering from week to week whether I’d still have anything to write about. Then I decided to “announce” my posts by linking to Facebook – tiny invitations to my small group of Facebook friends. I felt a little awkward and self-promotional, but I thought some of my stuff might be interesting. I’ve been surprised every week that someone reads.

An important thing all writers have to determine is “who is my audience?” I confess, I’m not always sure. I write about things that I see, and things that pop into my head. Sometimes, it feels like one of my childhood fantasies: I can narrate my life and people will be interested. But more often than not, I have my mom in mind, and my posts are what I would write in a letter or chat about on the phone. There’s only one problem – my mom doesn’t use a computer, smartphone, or the internet. So what’s a daughter to do? I periodically print my posts, have them bound at the copy store, and mail them to her. The anti-internet.

So now I’ll add this entry. A tiny boat bobbing along in the wide internet sea. A message in a bottle for you, dear reader.