Monday, May 17, 2010

Test Anxiety

March 1999

"Spelling!? OH NO! Spelling is my absolute worst thing!" My 4th grade son Dave was looking down in horror at the test booklet on the table before him.

I tried to console or at least quiet him. "It's only a 12-minute test--"

"Twelve minutes!?" he shrieked. "I can't answer 34 questions in 12 minutes!"

I finally quieted him by promising we would take a break after the twelve minutes, sighing inwardly because of the delay. We had five tests to cover that day, and this was not a promising start.

I read the usual text of instructions aloud to him from the teacher's guide, made sure he was on the appropriate page of the test booklet and the right column on the answer sheet, confirmed that his pencil was a #2 with a good point, checked my watch, and told him to begin.

He began, all right. He began thinking aloud, talking almost nonstop for the full twelve minutes.

"'Choose the misspelled word,'" he read aloud. "Area. But maybe they meant 'aria' or 'era.' How can I know which word they were trying to spell? Oh my, oh my, oh my. I don't know what to do. . . ."

He must have settled on something, because he was quiet for a moment. Then--

"Citys. They're supposed to change the y to i and add -es, so that can't be right. Unless they mean 'belonging to the city.'" Then they left out the apostrophe, but maybe they did that because this is a spelling test and not a punctuation test. Let me see-- they haven't used an apostrophe on this whole page . . . or the next page. So they must be leaving them out on purpose. I think. I don't know what to do! Oh no, oh no, no no no no nooo. . . ."

His voice trailed to a whisper. He paused, then--

"Selfish. That looks right, but maybe there's supposed to be two l's. Or maybe they mean 'shellfish,' so they've left out the h and second l. Which is it? Which did they mean? What should I Do?!! His voice rose in a wail.

"One minute," I responded, hating myself for it.

"ONE MINUTE?!! I just got started! One minute?! I can't finish in one minute! I'm doomed! I've failed! I can't believe I've failed!"

He got one more answer down, making a total of four, and we were both so rattled I made sure it was a very long break.

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