On Saturday, I took a three-hour exam to finish up one of my on-line courses. Since I only took this undergraduate composition course for credentialing purposes, I was quite literally 100% certain I would pass. I mean, I teach students mere months before they are supposed to be prepared to take this course. If can’t pass this course, my problems are bigger than a test.

Before I even began the exam, and despite all my preparation, there was a problem with my computer. Someone named JM showed up in a chat box and politely asked if he could take over my computer from a distance. I said yes, then sat and watched as my cursor moved around and things clicked on and off for over half an hour. JM worked it all out in the end, but I started my exam knowing I really am old because I found it all very disconcerting. And, even though I got the full time allotment, I started 45 minutes later than I had planned. This was problematic because a friend was watching my children for three hours – and now I needed four. But now I’d started my exam so I couldn’t use my phone… Oops. 


Sometime during hour one, I began to wonder when I had last taken an actual exam. Grad school? Probably, but I don’t remember any exams then – mostly essays. Could it have been undergrad? Let’s not consider how many years ago that was. (It was a lot of years.) At any rate, I now remembered how little I like timed endeavours. I really don’t like them. I found myself checking the timer more often than was necessary. At one point my internal voice scolded me for editing when I should have been writing. I wondered how strict the word limits were. There was no one to ask.


And let’s talk about the exam itself. I give exams every semester. I try to be completely transparent about what will be on the exam and to have the exam mimic classwork as nearly as I can. Nevertheless, my students are always stressed out. I tell them that I understand, but now I definitely get it because on Saturday, I was stressed. In three (short!) hours, I had to… 

  • Write an essay on a topic that I did not know ahead of time (structured but personal, thank heavens), 
  • Read an essay
    summarize it
    *and* write a rhetorical analysis
  • Identify a quote and explain how it fit into an essay I’d read during the class
  • Answer 20 grammar questions.

Thank goodness I remembered my personal time-use strategies: I headed straight for the grammar questions and worked backwards from there. Because I was at home and being proctored remotely (also weird), I drank tea the whole time I wrote, and then I had to ask permission to go to the bathroom – in my own home! 

When I got back from my bathroom break, I found myself assessing the exam: the multiple choice questions were ok but some gave away the answer. The essay provided on the exam was too old (2002 – so the statistics were seriously out of date) and had clearly been edited for length, meaning that it was a bit jumpy in places. I wondered if it was really fair to have students write a rhetorical analysis on an incomplete essay. Wouldn’t have been my choice, but length matters. The quote analysis was straightforward enough, but I was unconvinced that it effectively tested much beyond memory. But, hey, at least I had no complaints about the essay portion – except that I kind of liked what I was writing and wondered if there was a way I could save it…


I finished that dang exam with three minutes to spare. Three minutes. And now I have to wait ten days for the grade. I’m lucky because I know I did well, but I have renewed empathy for my exam-hating students. Apparently exam-writing is a stressful experience no matter how well I am prepared. I have been comforting myself by thinking that it may have been my last exam ever. At least I hope so.



17 thoughts on “Exam

  1. There is nothing like living the experience of our students to generate empathy! You have written a very important post for teachers and I think this supports the idea that we should be doing the work along side them – maybe even at exam time! Thanks for another brilliant and creative post, Amanda.


    1. Thanks, Melanie. I’m glad the exam is over & not entirely convinced that I want to write another one. I remember not liking exams, but I think my stress level was lower when I had to take them all the time. Wonder what my students think?


  2. Amanda, thank you for your careful reporting of your test-taking experience. I think we forget about the pressure of taking tests that students are faced with so this post is an awakening. I hope many people read this.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It was more stressful than I had anticipated, especially given that I was very confident heading into it. Again and again I wonder about timed situations and how much they do or don’t tell us about knowledge and intelligence.


    1. Three minutes!! I was definitely sweating. Granted, I was mainly editing, but trying to organize my thoughts & write & then cut them back to the word counts took a long time. I had to take a serious break afterwards – more time that my wonderful friend kept my children.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. UGH! Sounds terrible. I think my last timed, proctored exam was the exam that was briefly required of all new teachers Ontario. I think I was in the last group of people who took it before the government changed and it was deemed unnecessary. It was general knowledge test with many multiple choice and a few short essays. Not a big deal for me, but I know it was for some. I actually never worry about exams enough. I walk away feeling like I’ve aced it and then am surprised by the results. I was nearly finished with university before I started to take my time instead of rushing, and started to double check things before submitting the test. 🙂 Good luck with your results…though I don’t think you need luck.


    1. I would hate to have to take a teacher exam. UGH. And I’m terrible at knowing how I did on an exam. I used to leave exams just feeling sort of sick. It was one thing when I knew I’d gotten something right & another thing altogether when I was unsure. I really don’t like them: here’s to writing essays instead!


  4. Oh, if this post doesn’t give test taking anxiety, I don’t know what does! I haven’t taken a test like that in more than a decade. You reminded me how difficult this will be. I bet it will make you have even more empathy for your students.


    1. Oh yes, the whole course gave me empathy galore. We do some crazy things to students in the name of education, and exams have to rank pretty high. I am glad that I don’t have any more for the foreseeable future.


    1. Two left! Well, 1.5. I’ve finished this course with the exam (whew), have a nearly-done draft of the final essay for a second class & one research essay left for the third. I’m planning to write that last one this weekend – on why high school writing teachers should teach with mentor texts! I could be done with all three courses by Sunday. (We just won’t talk about how I have already started the next course – and then I have one left total to have the credentials to do the job I’ve been doing for 7 years…) But yes, some of the essays have been fun. I might even try to publish the one I’m working on now… it’s kind of cool.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I connected with your experience, ugh! Most of all, I enjoyed your crafting! The way you wove your thoughts and feelings into the details (facts) of the testing event. Your form. Great tone! And the pull of your voice keeping me to the end. Best wishes for success as you complete the requirements for your credentials.


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