I got my 3rd Chemistry exam back today, the last of the normal exams until Finals. I basically spent all day Friday and Saturday studying for it, while the rest of Phi Gamma Delta was at our formal in Indy. Studying so much was somewhat mind-numbing, and delayed later work on another project, but my exam grade in that class has improved each time, and I was intent on continuing that trend. I wanted to be in complete control when I took the test, and even managed to get more than 6 hours of sleep the night before, rare for a Sunday night.
I ended up with an 84%. Not as good as I hoped, but at least 13 points above the class average. The questions weren’t terribly difficult, but I got nervous, and spent about 10 minutes in despair about one particular question at the end. The questions, though I had answered similar ones many times while practicing, seemed so much more perplexing on the test.
I experienced the same kind of panic when I took the LSAT, and it goes to show the biggest obstacle us Humanities majors have to overcome in our careers. We don’t develop test-taking skills, because our tests are fairly tame. Standardized testing requires a short mental sprint different from the persistence required to write papers. We do have tests, but they’re usually inexact and predictable enough for a knowledgeable student.
It’s a complete mental obstacle. Each problem which I don’t think I ace’d detracts from my confidence. Larger problems can stun me with their intricacy–the problem that caused the most panic was simply one that combined both stoichiometry (balancing equations and figuring out masses) and colligative properties (how to change vapor pressure, boiling point, etc). I simply didn’t know where to start amidst all the numbers. 5 minutes after turning the test in, I realized I should have started by simply balancing the equation. But for all the testing skills I lack, I would never trade in my paper-writing skills for them.