Monday, September 27, 2010


Twenty years ago (and more), I had abysmal study habits. It followed that when I took tests, my palms would sweat. I would break out in hives and squirm in my seat. I can remember all-too-clearly when the answers would swirl just on the other side of water-filled eyes and I would will myself not to cry. I can remember watching the time tick past, and seeing the answers all start to look alike, breaking pencil lead out of frustration, or tearing through the paper with erasures or scrawled-too-hard calculations.

You would think it would have gotten me studying. Somehow, it didn't.

I studied. I put in evenings and weekends, hours and hours of the driest material I've ever read, and worked out every sample calculation, checked every answer. I admit I skimmed the last chapters (Accounting for Equity Compensation. Securities Law Treatment of Equity Compensation. Section 16 and Disclosure Rules. How could I resist them?) But the first 9 (just imagine the gems those must contain! The fascinating nuggets!) - I highlighted, took notes, wrote in margins, re-read.

Some of the studying was while Littles bumped around, asking questions and interrupting the flow. Lots of it was done while Agatha or Gavin gave me large stretches of time alone. Once I read about restricted shares while a lovely woman painted my toes.

I took it. The on-line test was the longest single-subject test I have ever taken. Interesting, in that it was so different from test given to me prior, on subject matter I couldn't have dreamed I would be anywhere near.

Much of it was calculations - and they don't come easily to me. Even when I know the rule-sets, I have to plot every point. I do so slowly, cross referencing with at least two sets of study notes, attempting to ensure I am doing the right calculation for the right question. I still miss them - capturing a hiring date wrong, or incorrectly calculating for "disqualified" when it should be qualifying.

Today's answer sets are that kind of tricky. Each is designed to know what you might answer if you look at the question intelligently, with concentrated wrongnesss. Three of the choices from A to D ferret out all the versions of Wrong, and present them to you - in black and white, where they reassure by looking Absolutely Correct.

The non-calculations were no better. So convincing was every option, that I was compelled to look up every single answer - to double-check. After hour three, desperate to pee or to pace or to let the cat in, but terrified to use even one second anywhere else, I started moving faster. And, in haste, the questions got harder. Every choice looked right, or, alternatively, equally implausible .

Four hours looking at one computer screen. With a couple of hundred pages worth of notes. "Open book," in these circumstances, feels a bit like a cruel joke. Not one question of the (100? I didn't notice. I was looking at the backward-ticking time) lot of them was automatic to me. Knowing the material, having studied, having taken the practice tests - it helped. But only just.

Somehow, though - since everything was solidly familiar (if foggy) and since I could say with no more certainty that any specific answer was fully wrong, It seemed plausible that I would pass. Not likely, perhaps, but plausible.


Having spent my day thusly, I felt more sympathetic toward my daughter, stumbling in the front door with a rain-soaked sour whine about her loaded backpack- she who takes three times as long as her peers to do a handwriting assignment, who panics at timed math tests and transposes numbers, who has make up work on top of homework. I feel slightly more sympathetic to my son, who keened for ten minutes about all the things he Doesn't Want to Do. On a hidden, more patient level than my response belied, I so wanted to make the extra time requirements go away for my daughter, replace my son's day with one full of only things he cares about, goals he wants.

My sympathy, however veiled, didn't make the evening smoother. Annabeth's homework didn't dissolve into misty done-ness, Sebastian didn't bounce up to bed with a renewed sense of optimism. In fact, nothing went all that well in the rainy evening after my grueling four-hour graded attempt to prove Something. But I did feel I "got it."

I didn't pass the exam. And I am proudest of the fact that I didn't get all that anxious. I used every second, but I never panicked. I got it done, and I guess I know more about how its structured than I did. I have ten extra points' worth of tax law to parse, calculations to re-do, clear margins to fill.

The test today was, in failure, affirming. In a way I couldn't have guessed. I'd rather not do it again, but I will. Next week, in fact. And I will be better. And it won't be the Worst Thing Ever. Which seems like progress, and a little like maturity.

1 comment:

  1. Ouch. I am so impressed, and I feel so awful, just reading it. A real reminder of why school is so miserable for our kids. A real reminder of why, once we're done, most of us make every effort NOT to be tested again. We'll all be cheering for the second attempt.